On July 14th, 2021, the Georgia Court of Appeals made the decision that Sheryl Daniel, who tripped and fell at work while on her way to her lunch break, is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, reversing a prior decision made in 2018.
This reversal follows a new precedent set by the Georgia Supreme Court in June 2020, which claims that injuries suffered during routine breaks such as while a worker is going to the bathroom or eating lunch are considered to happen during the course of employment—and thus they are entitled to compensation.
Before the Supreme Court’s decision, it was a long-accepted rule that employees were operating under their own free will during work breaks, and therefore they could not obtain any benefits under Georgia’s 1920 Workers’ Compensation Act if they were injured during a break.
Sheryl Daniel was employed as a seamstress at Bremen-Bowdon Investment Company. At the time of the accident, she was taking a regularly scheduled lunch break. The location of the company-owned parking lot required her to walk along a public sidewalk and across the street. On her way to her car, she tripped on the sidewalk and was injured.
The Georgia Court of Appeals concluded that she is entitled to income benefits because she was injured while leaving the premises of her workplace for a scheduled work break. As a result, her injury occurred during the course of her employment, according to the Supreme Court.
Workplace slip and fall accidents
Slip and fall (or trip and fall) injuries, like in Sheryl Daniel’s case, are some of the most common accidents that happen in the workplace. This is often because of the dangerous nature of many workplaces, which include high-traffic corridors and working from heights. A worker may also slip because of wearing improper footwear or slick floors.
It is also important to know that injuries from tripping or slipping may not always include the “fall.” People can get hurt if even they catch themselves before they fall. In some cases, catching yourself on an object after a trip can cause injury. In other instances, you might be hurt due to preventing a coworker from falling.
There are 2 types of injuries that can result from slip and fall accidents:
- Injuries as a result of the slip or trip. Tripping injuries are usually caused by an object or sudden movement and can seriously injure your knees or back. A twisting injury can also occur in the back from a trip, which could result in a herniation.
- Injuries as a result of the fall. Falling injuries can be even more serious. You can hurt yourself almost any body part after falling because your body must brace itself from the fall.
A trip, slip or fall injury does not have to be the fault of an employer or coworker in order for it to be covered under workers’ compensation. Much like in the case of Sheryl Daniel, whose employer did not do anything intentionally or unintentionally to cause her injury, a person can file for workers’ compensation as long as they were injured in the course and scope of employment—regardless of the cause.
What to do after a slip and fall at work
If you tripped, slipped or fell at work and were hurt—whether it happened while you are leaving for a scheduled break or while you are physically working—there are 4 steps you should take immediately to protect your workers’ compensation rights:
1. Get medical attention
Even if your fall seemed minor or you don’t think you were seriously hurt, it’s important to go to a doctor and get examined to make sure you did not suffer any serious injuries from your fall.
2. Notify your manager
According to Georgia law, you must report your injury to your employer within 30 days of the date of your injury. Failing to notify your employer within this time period puts your claim at risk of being denied for delayed reporting.
3. File a workers’ compensation claim
As soon as possible after you slip, trip or fall, you should file a workers’ comp claim. Georgia law states that you must file your claim within 1 year of the date of your injury.
4. Talk to an experienced lawyer
A lawyer can help answer any questions or concerns you have about your rights as a worker, or address any difficulty you may have in filing a claim.