Byerley v. Citrus Publishing, Inc.
725 So. 2d 1230 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999)

Facts:

  • Byerley was injured in an accident which occurred on her employer’s premises.
  • She had completed work and punched out for the day. Instead of taking the most direct route to the parking lot, she headed towards the loading dock to pick up boxes she wanted to take home.
  • On her way, she tripped over a bench with protruding runners that had been placed on the sidewalk adjacent to the loading dock.
  • As a result of the accident, Byerley suffered a compression fracture of the vertebrae in her back, pulled her right groin muscle, fractured her left kneecap, and suffered numerous abrasions. Her total medical bills exceeded $30,000.

History:

  • Byerley filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits which was denied by the employer and its workers’ compensation carrier.
    • The notice of denial stated: “Injury did not arise out [of] the course and scope of [Byerley's] employment. Employee was clocked out and had exited the building, when she tripped over a bench on the pavement.”
  • After the denial, and pursuant to sections 440.06 and 440.11(1), Florida Statutes (1995), Byerley filed a tort action.
    • The employer asserted in its answer, among other things, that Byerley’s exclusive remedy was workers’ compensation.

Issue:
After denying workers’ compensation benefits as not arising out of the course and scope of employment, may an employer then argue the exclusive remedy doctrine as a defense to the tort claim?

Holding:
No. Case reversed.

Reasoning:
It would be inequitable for an employer to deny worker’s compensation coverage on the ground that the employee’s injury did not arise out of the course and scope of employment, then later claim immunity from a tort suit on the ground that the injury did arise out of the course and scope of employment. This argument, if accepted, would eviscerate the Workers’ Compensation Act and allow employers to avoid all liability for employee job related injuries.

Rule: If an employee’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits is denied because the injury did not arise out of the course and scope of employment, the employer is then estopped from asserting the exclusive remedy doctrine as defense to the employee’s tort claim.