LOGAN – A local judge has ruled that an employee who developed health problems after she shut her finger in a vehicle door is eligible for worker’s compensation, because the injury happened in her employer’s parking lot as she was coming in to work.
The plaintiff in the case, Brenda Hinerman, is described as a longtime employee of a Logan manufacturing business, Savant Systems (formerly GE Lighting). On Aug. 20, 2020, according to a judgment entry by Hocking County Common Pleas Judge John T. Wallace, she arrived for work shortly before 11 p.m. and parked in the company lot.
While conversing with another employee in the lot, Hinerman “absent-mindedly shut her right pinkie finger in the truck door,” and had to unlock the door to free her finger. “There is no evidence that Ms. Hinerman intentionally injured herself,” the judge notes.
Hinerman got treatment for her finger at the factory’s first aid room, and later told her supervisor about the injury. She suffered a fracture of her right fifth distal phalanx (fingertip), which was later complicated by a staph infection.
Complicating matters further, antibiotics that Hinerman was prescribed for the infection apparently brought on a liver disorder while she was off work due to the injury.
Hinerman filed a worker’s comp claim, which the Bureau of Worker’s Compensation denied, as did the Industrial Commission. Hinerman then appealed to the common pleas court.
According to Wallace, the parties to the legal case agree on the facts of the case, leaving only issues of law to be decided.
Discussing the pertinent legal issues, Wallace notes that to qualify for worker’s comp, an employee’s injury must be sustained “in the course of and arising out of” their employment.
Regarding the “in the course of” condition, Wallace observes that a line of cases considered by the Ohio Supreme Court has set a “coming-and-going rule,” which says in essence that an injury sustained while traveling to or from work does not count as a work injury.
However, courts have recognized an exception to this rule, for injuries that take place in the “zone of employment,” which “generally includes not only the employer’s premises, but also the employer’s parking lot.”
The judge found that Hinerman’s injury qualifies for compensation because she sustained it while exiting and securing her vehicle to go to work – which included closing her truck door.
While her injury was due to carelessness, Wallace writes, this would equally be the case if the plaintiff had gotten hurt when she “tripped over her own two feet” in the parking lot – and Ohio case law has found that such an injury is compensable.
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