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Liability for slip and falls on school grounds

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June 20, 2014

Are you liable when an employee slips on a mat outside of the school entrance and injures himself or herself while leaving on a personal errand?

Well, it depends.  In a very recent case, Graham Public Schools was on the unfortunate side of this question and was held liable.  While leaving school to rush to a family medical emergency, the employee tripped on a mat that had been placed there by the school administration.

Oklahoma law holds that an employer may be liable for injuries sustained by an employee if (a) the employee was going to or from work and either (1) the employee’s employment is shown to have a connection to the causative risk encountered, or (2) the precipitating risk of harm was created (or maintained) by the employer.  In this instance, there was no dispute that “the precipitating risk of harm” was a mat that the employer/school district placed outside the door that employees, such as the Plaintiff, used to exit the school building.  As a result, the school district was responsible for the employee’s injuries.  The case is Graham Public Schools v. Priddy, 2014 OK 30, ___ P.3d ___.

Contrast this case to where the employee falls down a stairwell that is outside of – but attached to – the school building and that stairwell is not owned or controlled by the school.  Rather, the landlord that rents the property to the school owns and maintains the stairwell. Oklahoma law provides, at 85 O.S. §11(a), that “Employment shall be deemed to commence when an employee arrives at the employee’s place of employment to report for work and shall terminate when the employee leaves the employee’s place of employment.” This statutory definition contains only two exclusions: (1) injuries in areas not under the control of the employer, and (2) injuries in areas where essential job functions are not performed.  In this latter example, because the stairwell is not owned by or under the control of the employer – i.e., the employment had ended – the school would not be liable.

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Brad Clark

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