Georgia Court of Appeals Outlines and Then Affirms “Clearer Bright-Line Rule” Regarding the Intersection of the Scheduled Break Exception and the Ingress/Egress Rule

By Dustin S. Thompson | Chad E. Harris

In Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers’ Compensation, 348 Ga. App. 30 (2018), the Court of Appeals clarified whether the ingress and egress rule applies to the scheduled break exception. The ruling in Frett affects two components of analyzing whether an employee is in the course and scope of her employer at the time of a work accident. Generally, the scheduled break exception holds an employee is not in the course and scope of her employment while on a scheduled break given the employee is free to use the time as she chooses even if she remains on the employer’s premises. The ingress and egress rule indicates an employee remains in the course and scope of her employment for a reasonable period of time while the employee is on the employer’s premises preparing to begin or end work.

The Court of Appeals’ full bench heard the arguments in Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers’ Compensation. Frett was represented by Robert E. Bourne and Elliot J. Bourne of Bourne Law Firm and Nicholas D. Benzine of Benzine Law Group. State Farm was presented by Charles “Chad” E. Harris, IV of Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers. The Court of Appeals noted a clearer bright-line rule is needed regarding the application of the scheduled break exception and how it intersects with the ingress and egress rule. The Court of Appeals concluded the ingress and egress rule does not apply to the scheduled break exception. The Court of Appeals further disapproved its previous holdings to the contrary where it had extended the ingress and egress rule to cover cases where an employee was injured while leaving and returning from a regularly scheduled break.

In Frett, the Court of Appeals found the following undisputed facts. Frett worked as an insurance claims associate in State Farm’s leased suite in a shared office building. Frett had a mandatory, unpaid, 45-minute lunch break every work day. The lunch break was scheduled by an automated system which staggered the breaks to ensure adequate associates were available to handle calls. Each morning, Frett would log in for the day and assess her schedule, which would include the time of her lunch break. At the time of her scheduled lunch break, Frett would log out of the phone system, and she was free to do as she pleased on her break including an ability to leave the office. Frett was not expected or asked to work during her lunch breaks.

On the date of her accident, Frett logged out of the phone system at the assigned time and walked to the break room within State Farm’s suite to microwave the food she intended to eat for lunch. As Frett began to exit the break room to take her lunch outside the building, she slipped on water and fell. Frett was still inside the break room at the time of her fall. Frett thereafter pursued a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.

At the trial level, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) awarded Frett medical benefits and temporary total disability benefits relying upon the Court of Appeal’s decision in Rockwell v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 248 Ga. App. 73 (2001). In Rockwell, the Court of Appeals applied the ingress and egress rule to an employee departing for a scheduled lunch break and, as a result, awarded benefits. The Appellate Division reversed the ALJ’s award finding Frett’s injury did not arise out of her employment because it occurred on a regularly scheduled break while Frett was pursuing a purely personal matter.

Within Judge Brown’s majority opinion, the Court of Appeals indicated the existence of a conflict in the case law regarding the intersection of the ingress/egress rule and the scheduled break exception. Based on the Court of Appeals’ rulings prior to Frett, an employee choosing to leave the employer’s premises during a regularly scheduled break who was injured while departing or returning from the break was found to have sustained injuries arising out of and in the course of employment. On the other hand, an employee choosing to remain on the employer’s premises during a regularly scheduled break and injured beginning or ending the break was found to have injuries which do not arise out of and in the course of employment.

Notably, the Court of Appeals indicated its decision in Rockwell and its predecessors improperly diluted the precedent set by the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision in Ocean Acc. and Guar. Corp. v. Farr, 180 Ga. 266 (1935), when the Supreme Court first established the lunch break exception to compensability. In Farr, an on-site employee was injured while walking down steps to the basement to eat his lunch during a break. The Supreme Court held the

employee’s “preparation for lunch and his eating lunch was his individual affair,” and thus his injury “arose out of his individual pursuit and not out of his employment.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court denied the award of benefits in Farr.

Considering the conflict in case law and the inherent issues created by analyzing a worker’s subjective intent in such scenarios, the Court of Appeals fashioned a “clearer bright-line rule” specifying the ingress and egress rule does not cover cases in which the employee is injured while leaving or returning to work on a regularly scheduled break. The Court of Appeals further disapproved its decision in Rockwell and two of its predecessors, Travelers Ins. Co. v. Smith, 91

Ga. App. 305 (1954) and Chandler v. Gen. Acc. Fire & Life Assur. Corp., 101 Ga. App. 597 (1960). Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division and Superior Court’s denial of Frett’s request for benefits.

Despite establishing the “clearer bright-line rule,” the Court of Appeals noted “any decision to apply the ingress and egress rule to the scheduled break exception should be made by our Supreme Court, particularly because the Supreme Court has never expressed its view on the ingress and egress rule generally.” Frett at 36. Following the Court of Appeal’s ruling, the Frett case was resolved, so the Supreme Court will not take it under consideration.

However, within a few months of the Frett decision, the Court of Appeals revisited its holding in Frett when issuing its opinion in Daniel v. Bremen-Bowdon Inv. Co., 2019 Ga. App. LEXIS 91. Daniel is represented by C. Jason Perkins and Meredith F. Thompson of Perkins Studdard. Bremen-Bowdon Inv. Co. is represented by Adam C. Grafton and Phillip B. Hairston of Bovis, Kyle, Burch & Medlin. In Daniel, the employee parked in a lot owned by the employer, requiring her to walk down a public sidewalk and cross a street to reach her employer’s place of business. Daniel was provided a regularly scheduled lunch break during which she was free to leave the workplace and pursue personal matters.

While on her regularly scheduled lunch break, Daniel was walking to her car to drive home for lunch when she tripped on the public sidewalk and was injured. Relying on the holding in Frett, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division’s ruling that the claimant’s injury did not arise out of her employment because it occurred on a regularly scheduled lunch break. In reaching this decision, the Court of Appeals applied its ruling in Frett, where the bright-line rule was established that the ingress and egress rule does not extend to employee injuries occurring while leaving and returning to work for a regularly scheduled break. In Daniel and relying upon Frett, the Court of Appeals concluded the employee’s injury was not compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

The Court of Appeals’ ruling in Daniel and reliance upon Frett affirms the bright-line rule that the ingress/egress rule does not apply or extend coverage to accidents occurring on regularly scheduled breaks where the employer has no control over the employee’s activities for the time period of the break. Daniel has applied for certiorari of the Court of Appeals’ decision to the Georgia Supreme Court. At this time, it is unclear whether the Supreme Court of Georgia will take Daniel under consideration. Consequently, for now, the bright-line rule established in Frett continues to control and accidents occurring on regularly scheduled breaks are not compensable, regardless of whether the employee is ingressing or egressing.

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Dustin S. Thompson is an attorney at Swift Currie McGhee & Hiers.

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Chad E. Harris is an attorney at Swift Currie McGhee & Hiers.