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Workers’ Compensation: Supreme Court rules on Coverage for Post-Termination Injuries

Stockwell Sievert Law Firm

Until recently, the Louisiana Supreme Court was silent as to the applicability of workers’ compensation in post-termination employee injury scenarios. Clearly, such a determination is of the utmost importance to self-insured employers and workers’ compensation insurers who could face liability for injuries sustained by employees after they are terminated or quit.

In Ardoin v. Cleco Power, L.L.C., 2010-815 (La. 7/2/10), 38 So.3d 264, Ardoin, a Cleco employee, was terminated on Friday, October 24, 2008 at Cleco's Work Center in Opelousas, Louisiana. Ardoin's office was located in Eunice, Louisiana. Despite his prior termination, Ardoin requested that he be allowed to go to his office in Eunice on Monday, October 27, 2008, to collect his personal belongings. Cleco agreed to Ardoin's request and allowed Ardoin to go to his office on Monday, October 27, 2008. While clearing out his office, Ardoin sustained serious physical injuries in a slip and fall accident.

Ardoin filed a claim for workers compensation seeking wage benefits, medical treatment, penalties and attorney fees, despite the fact that he had been terminated by Cleco prior to sustaining his injuries, and, thus, appeared unable to prove that his injuries occurred in the course and scope of his employment. The Office of Workers’ Compensation granted, and the Louisiana Third Circuit affirmed, Cleco’s motion for summary judgment, rejecting Ardoin's argument that the accident occurred during the reasonable period of time permitted a discharged employee to wind up his affairs.
The Supreme Court reversed and held that, given that the terminated employee was permitted by his employer to clean out his Eunice office and retrieve his personal belongings on the Monday following the discharge that occurred on Friday in Opelousas, the injury occurred during a reasonable period of time for winding up the employee’s affairs and thus was considered to be within the course and scope of employment. In so holding, the Supreme Court cited Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 26.01 for the proposition that:

Compensation coverage is not automatically and instantaneously terminated by the firing or quitting of the employee. The employee is deemed to be within the course of employment for a reasonable period while winding up his or her affairs and leaving the premises. The difficult question is: What is a reasonable period?

The Supreme Court’s decision in Ardoin establishes a clear precedent for employer exposure under the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act for lost wages and medical expenses when discharged employees return to work premises in winding up their affairs. Employers must be aware of this potential exposure and establish protocols for carefully handling situations involving recently discharged employees. 

By Ross M. Raley

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