Just How Inclusive is Utah’s Workers’ Compensation Statute?

workers' compensation

By Zachary C. Lindley

On September 4, 2019, the Utah Supreme Court showed just how inclusive U.C.A. § 34A-2-401 (workers’ compensation statute) really is by clarifying what it takes to satisfy “arising out of” and “in the course of” in determining entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits—elements a claimant is required to establish.   

In Intercontinental Hotels Group v. Utah Labor Commission, 2019 UT 55, the Supreme Court upheld the Utah Labor Commission’s determination of a claimant’s entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits after injuring her foot in the parking lot while walking to work. To fully appreciate the Supreme Court’s analysis, it is important to understand the arguments presented by Intercontinental Hotels Group (“IHG”) in opposition.

IHG argued the elements of § 34A-2-401 had not been satisfied because (1) the claimant’s accident did not arise out of her employment, since the injury did not stem from an employment-related risk, and (2) the accident did not occur in the course of employment, since she was traveling to work at the time and was not on its premises. IHG argued, first, the arising out of element introduces a causation element that limits compensation to only those injuries sustained as a result of exposure to risk to which the general public is not exposed. IHG then argued the “going-and-coming rule” (i.e. not entitled to workers’ compensation while traveling to or from employer’s premises) prevented claimant from satisfying the second element—in the course of—barring entitlement to benefits. It argued the “premises rule,” relied upon by the Utah Labor Commission, is an exception to the going-and-coming rule, and that, after the Supreme Court’s decision in Jex v. Utah Labor Commission, 2013 UT 40, 306 P.3d 799, the Utah Labor Commission failed to satisfy either of the two-factors of the premises rule—benefit conferred and employer control.

First, as to IHG’s arise out of argument, the Supreme Court agreed with IHG that arising out of introduces a causation element to the statute. However, the Supreme Court rejected IHG’s more restrictive view.  Instead, the Supreme Court, citing the two-part test in Allen v. Industrial Commission, 729 P.2d 15 (Utah 1986) (legal and medical causation), stated legal causation is satisfied if the accident occurs as a “natural consequence” of the employee’s employment. More specifically, “a slip-and-fall accident arises out of employment where the employee slips and falls in a place, and at a time, in which the employee would not otherwise have been but for the employee’s employment obligations.” Intercontinental Hotel Groups, 2019 UT 55, ¶18. A standard less restrictive than tort causation.

Next, as to IHG’s in the course of argument, the Supreme Court found IHG erred when it assumed the going-and-coming rule applied to a case involving accidents on an employer’s premises. The going-and-coming rule only applies to injuries occurring off an employer’s premises. In other words, where an injury occurs off-premise, entitlement to workers’ compensation will depend on the two-factor test in Jex—benefit conferred and employer control. The Supreme Court found this assumption understandable, as previous cases discussed the going-and-coming rule as a distinct exception to the premises rule—it is not.  

In so finding, the Supreme Court made it clear:

[W]here an employee is injured on his or her employer’s premises, the going-and-coming rule does not apply, and the employee is considered to be in the course of employment.

* * *

[I]f an employee is injured while passing, with the express or implied consent of the employer, to or from his work by a way over the employer’s premises, or over those of another in such proximity and relation as to be in practical effect a part of the employer’s premises, the injury is compensable.

Intercontinental Hotels Group, 2019 UT 55, ¶¶34, 37 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

Takeaways for L&E practitioners:

  1. Causation in workers’ compensation is a less restrictive standard than that required in causes of action based in tort;
  2. The premises rule is not a distinct exception to the going-and-coming rule;
  3. The going-and-coming rule does not apply if an injury occurred on the employer’s premises; and 
  4. An employer’s premise includes not only that property owned by the employer but also may include any such premises in close proximity.