What Do You Think: May Work-study Student Injured at Building Entrance Sue University for Negligence?

26 Mar, 2024 Chris Parker


Cincinnati, OH (WorkersCompensation.com) -- An Ohio employee with a fixed place of employment must be in the zone of employment for his injury to be covered by workers’ compensation. If it is covered, then the employer is immune, under the Workers’ Compensation Act, to any negligence lawsuit the employee brings against it.

But can that zone include injuries that occur when the employee has not yet entered his place of employment, his work hours have not begun, and he is not actively engaged in working?

A case involving a student in the University of Cincinnati’s work-study program addresses that issue. The student was considered an employee for purposes of the university’s work-study program.

One day, his brother dropped him off at the sidewalk outside the building where the student worked. It was around 3 p.m., close to when he was to begin working.

The student proceeded directly along the walkway leading to the building to report to work. He tripped and injured himself when, according to the student, he was "just about to walk in," only "a few feet away" from the front doors.

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The university asked the court to throw out the case, arguing that it was immune to negligence lawsuits for its employees’ injuries.

To be compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act, an injury must arise out of and occur during the course of employment. The latter element refers to the time, place and circumstances of the injury.

For employees with a fixed and limited place of employment, the course of employment is typically restricted to activities occurring on the employer's premises or within the immediately adjacent “zone of employment.”

The zone of employment  is, generally, the place of employment and the area thereabout, including the means of entering and exiting from the place of employment, under control of the employer.

Could the student sue university for negligence?
A. Yes. He wasn’t working when he fell.
B. No. He was on a walkway controlled by his employer he used for entering the building.

If you selected B, you agreed with the court in Marzan v. University of Cincinnati, No. No. 2023-00533JD (Ohio Ct. of Claims 02/23/24), which held that the student was in the zone of employment when he fell.

The court noted that injuries which occur in parking lots or walkways owned or controlled by the employer and intended primarily for employees' use have been held to be within the zone of employment. The court added that an employee can be in the zone of employment before, during, or after the employee’s work hours, as in this case. 

Here, the student, who was also an employee of the university, was on the university’s premises while walking into the building where he worked. Specifically, he was “on a walkway just a few feet from the front doors that were his normal means of ingress and egress,” the court wrote.

The court acknowledged that the student was not yet actively engaged in his work duties. The zone of employment test, however, is not dependent on the injury occurring while the employee is actually performing his work. 

The court concluded that the student was injured in the course of his employment and thus was barred from suing the university for negligence. The court granted summary judgment to the university and dismissed the case.

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