GA Court of Appeals: A Shooting at Home Found Compensable

Written by: Daniel Richardson, Esq.

Jay Kil was a restaurant manager of Legend Café. He oversaw the restaurant, operated the cash register, ensured orders were correct, and oversaw cleanliness. He lived with restaurant owner Willmore Lim, and after each workday, they would spend around an hour at home reviewing the day’s sales, receipts, accounts, and inventory. After closing on May 19, 2016, they drove home without taking a detour. They had receipts and planned to review the records at home, as usual. When they pulled into the garage, three men ran up and demanded at gunpoint that they hand over a “bag of money.” Lim and Kil told them they had no money. The attackers demanded they exit and open the trunk. One of the attackers noticed Kil had a gun in his sweater. The attackers fled, but while fleeing, one of them shot Kil in the forearm. He spent two weeks in the hospital, underwent multiple surgeries, and has not returned to work.

The primary issue in Kil’s workers’ compensation claim was whether his injury arose out of and in the course of employment. At a hearing, an administrative law judge ruled that it did.  The Board affirmed the ALJ’s decision in Kil’s favor. The superior court reversed the Board’s award of benefits, and Kil then appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals, and he recently won.  An injury is compensable only if it (1) arises out of and (2) in the course of employment, which presents two independent and distinct criteria to be satisfied, and the Court of Appeals addressed each of these criteria to find in Kil’s favor.

The Court of Appeals held that the superior court erred when it determined that Kil’s injury did not occur in the course of his employment. To satisfy this criterion, an accident must arise “within the period of employment at a place where the employee may reasonably be in the performance of his duties and while he is fulfilling those duties or engaged in doing something incidental thereto.” Normally, an injury which happens on the way to or from work does not satisfy this criterion. But the scope of Kil’s job responsibilities was an issue of fact, and there was evidence in the record to support the Board’s determination that Kil’s job responsibilities had not ended for the day. A key job responsibility was to go over sales, receipts, and other things with Lim for an hour at home. He was with the company owner. They were in possession of receipts they were about to review. They took no personal detours on the way home. Kil was exactly where he was expected to be in order to continue performing his duties as manager. He was in the course of fulfilling those duties at the time of the robbery. Therefore, though an injury on the way to or from work is not usually found to be in the course and scope of employment, this one was due to these unique circumstances.

The Court of Appeals also found that the superior court had improperly substituted its own factual findings for those made by the State Board regarding whether the Claimant’s injury arose out of his employment. The Board had concluded that the injury arose out of Kil’s employment because the circumstances of the robbery demonstrated the attackers had targeted Kil and Lim due to their connection to the restaurant and that, as a result of job responsibilities, the perpetrators could calculate the late hour they would arrive home and could expect them to have money in their possession. A reasonable person could see the causal connection between the employment and the robbery.

Employers should be aware of potential liabilities created through unorthodox work arrangements like this.  It is one thing to focus on workplace safety when the workplace is a well-defined building that you go to, but as the workplace expands to other locations, employers may be liable for injuries in those other locations, or even on the way to those other locations.  In the end, it may be worth it to keep an unorthodox work arrangement, but that decision is best made with full awareness of the potential risks.