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Jaeger Baking Co. v. Kretschmann

    Brief Fact Summary. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed an order dismissing a Claimant’s application for compensation from the State Department of Industry under Wisconsin’s Worker’s Compensation statute. Petitioner employer appealed the decision.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Wisconsin’s Worker’s Compensation statute covers employees injured while in a parking lot owned or maintained by the employer for the convenience of its employees but does not cover employees injured while walking from the employer’s parking lot to the work premises.

    Facts. While walking on the direct path between the parking lot and his work premises, Kretschmann was attacked by unknown assailants. He was on his way to work the 2:00 a.m. shift on a sidewalk adjacent to his employer’s place of business, and was about 50 feet from the entrance when he was attacked.

    Issue. Was plaintiff entitled to coverage pursuant to the workman’s compensation statute?

    Held. The Court reversed the lower court’s order and dismissed respondent’s application; respondent was not entitled to coverage under the worker’s compensation statute because although he was walking on the direct path to his workplace, he was not walking from the company parking lot.

    Dissent. The dissent finds the majority’s strict construction of the statute problematic, stating, “[T]he Worker’s Compensation Act, like any remedial statute, ‘should be liberally construed in favor of including all service that can in any sense be said to reasonably come within it.’” The dissent finds the majority’s interpretation not only unfair, but exclusionary, noting, “Kretschmann was injured he was located on the same route an employee would take if he used the parking lot, and walked to the employer’s premises on a direct route. The difference between Kretschmann, and employees who drove to work, is that since Kretschmann took public transit his starting point was not the parking lot but a bus stop,” and thus, “the question becomes whether, liberally construed, the phrase ‘going between an employer’s designated parking lot and the employer’s work premises while on a direct route’ should be interpreted as creating an area at the premises in which recovery to injured employees
    is mandated, or merely protects a class of people” Thus, the dissent concluded, “This statute should be construed as affording protection to those employees on a direct route between the employer’s parking lot and his premises, whatever the mode of transportation taken to reach that route.”

    Discussion. This decision is primarily one of strict statutory interpretation and the purview of the court. To that end, the court noted, “Questions of law, including the interpretation and application of a statute, are reviewable by the court. No deference will be accorded an agency finding when the finding is based entirely on uncontroverted evidence.” In overruling a state agency, the court asserted, “The court is in as good a position as the agency to make findings of fact where the evidence is undisputed and the credibility of witnesses is not in issue.” Nevertheless, the court does limit its jurisdiction, pointing out, “Because the law of worker’s compensation is wholly statutory, public policy questions concerning its scope and fairness are for the legislature rather than the courts.” However, the court continued, “When the statutory language is unambiguous, the intention of the legislature must be arrived at by giving the language its ordinary and accepted meaning.”
    With regard to the matter at hand, the court examined the issue with an eye toward first to plain language interpretation as well as contextual reading: “The legislative intent is expressly stated and is apparent when the pertinent portions of the statute are read in their entirety. The clause immediately following the one quoted provides, ‘while on a direct route and in the ordinary and usual way.’ The plain and simple meaning is that coverage may be allowed when an employee is traveling from the parking lot to the work premises, or vice versa, on a direct route.” Thus, because the statute only gave coverage to those workers who had left the parking lot and were traveling directly to the work premises and Kretschmann was not walking from the parking lot, he was not covered by the statute.


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