Minnesota Supreme Court Issues Workers’ Compensation Decision Hohlt v. University of Minnesota

Hohlt v. University of Minnesota, Case No. A16-0349

In Hohlt v. University of Minnesota, Case No. A16-0349, Hohlt slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk when walking from her workplace to a parking ramp owned and operated by her employer, the University of Minnesota.

The issues contested at the hearing were whether Hohlt’s injury arose out of her employment and was in the course of her employment. The compensation judge concluded Hohlt’s injury did not arise out of her employment because “the hazard faced by the employee of falling on winter ice or snow was not unlike the hazard faced by the general public.” Hohlt appealed the compensation judge’s decision that her injury did not arise out of her employment. The University cross-appealed on the issue of the in the course of requirement.

The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals reversed the compensation judge’s “arising out of” conclusion. The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals determined that “Hohlt was on the premises of the employer when she was injured” because she had recently punched out and “was walking a short distance on the most direct route to a parking ramp owned and operated by her employment,” concluding she was in the course of her employment. Additionally, the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals concluded that the injury arose out of Hohlt’s employment because of her “presence on the employer’s premises … was not due to her membership in the general public but was because of her employment by the university.”

The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeal’s decision, finding Hohlt’s injury compensable. The Court analyzed the “arising out of” and “in the course of” requirements separately, as the statute and Dykhoff mandate.

First, the Court looked at whether Hohlt’s injury arose out of her employment. The Court noted that the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals properly applied the increased risk test to conclude that Hohlt’s employment exposed her to a hazard that originated on the premises as part of the working environment. Here, Hohlt was walking from one part of her employer’s premises to another when she fell on an icy patch. She was exposed to the icy sidewalk on her employer’s premises because she was there, not as a member of the general public, but because of her employment as a painter. The Court stated, “the test is not whether the general public was also exposed to the risk, but whether the employee was exposed to the risk because of employment.”

Second, the Court looked at whether Hohlt’s injury was in the course of her employment. Here, Hohlt slipped and fell shortly after leaving work, which was a reasonable period beyond actual working hours. She walked directly to her car, only four blocks away, which was reasonably incidental to her employment. Lastly, Hohlt sustained the injury after leaving work at a University building and walked directly on the University-maintained sidewalk to the University’s parking ramp. Thus, the Court held that Hohlt was in the course of her employment when she was injured.

In the dissent, Justice Anderson concluded Hohlt did not satisfy either the “arising out of” or the “in the course of” requirement. He argues Hohlt did not establish her injury was in any way caused by her employment and points out Hohlt testified she was in pursuit of personal, not work, activities when she fell. Justice Anderson further reasoned the place and circumstances of Hohlt’s injury precludes compensation because she had punched out, was not performing work duties, and was walking on a public sidewalk to a parking location of her choosing.

Please contact attorney Lauren N. Harvey about any questions: Direct Phone: 952-345-9755 or email lnh@mccollumlaw.com

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