Can I File A Maryland Workers Compensation Claim If I am Injured While on a Lunch Break or Coffee Break ?

The Maryland court has definitely held that injuries at work while on coffee break on the premises are covered as would lunch breaks on the premises whether the employee gets paid for the break or does not get paid. The Maryland courts have repeatedly and consistently observed that in borderline course of-employment situations, such as having lunch, the presence of the activity on the premises is of great importance. The Court of Special Appeals has also articulated that “The modern institution of the ‘coffee break’ benefits the employer, in maintaining the employees’ morale, as well as the participating employees. There can be little question but that an accident sustained during such an interval on the portion of the employer’s premises set aside for the coffee break arises out of the employment.”

In Mack Trucks, Inc. v. Miller, 23 Md. App. 271, 326 A.2d 186 (1974), an employee ruptured a kidney during a lunch break while playing touch football on a plot of land owned by the employer and “Not only do the employer’s actual knowledge and acquiescence establish the recreational activity as an “incident of employment,” but the period over which it had persisted would, itself, permit that inference.” The court found that the injury sustained in this case was compensable.

In situations where the employee leaves the premises to get lunch or take a coffee break, those injuries that occur on the way to, during the lunch or coffee break, or during the return from the lunch or coffee break are usually covered by workers compensation. In King Waterproofing Co. v. Slovsky, 71 Md. App. 247, 524 A.2d 1245 (1987), Slovsky was struck by a car while crossing a highway during a paid meal break, he was struck while going to a carry-out restaurant located across a public highway from his office. The Court framed the issue for consideration as whether the employee sustained an accidental injury while engaged in some personal comfort activity incidental to his employment. If an injury that occurs during an on-premises coffee break can arise out of employment, it follows that an injury sustained during an off-premises coffee break also can arise out of employment.

The Maryland law allows for the workers compensation claim even if the employer provides an on premises place to do the break. Maryland law is less likely to compensate for injuries while on lunch break if the employee goes a great distance past the employer premises when there are closer places or where the employee also takes care of personal errands or goes home first.

The Slovsky court also relied on the analysis of Professor Larson in regard to the compensability of injuries sustained during off-premises coffee breaks; “It is clear that one cannot announce an all-purpose ‘coffee break rule,’ since there are too many variables that could affect the result. The duration might be five minutes, seven minutes, 10 minutes, or even 20 minutes by which time it is not far from that of a half-hour lunch period. Other variables may involve the question whether the interval is a right fixed by the employment contract, whether it is a paid interval, whether there are restrictions on where the employee can go during the break, and whether the employee’s activity during this period constituted a substantial personal deviation. King Waterproofing, 71 Md. App. 247 at 253-54

The appellants argued that it was unnecessary for Slovsky to leave the employer’s premises to obtain refreshments because the employer provided coffee and instant soup mixes on the premises. King Waterproofing Co. v. Slovsky, 71 Md. App. 247, 524 A.2d 1245 (1987) Although the employer may have provided certain refreshments, the employer permitted employees to leave the premises, because the limited fare available on the premises did not satisfy those who, like Slovsky, preferred a cold drink. Id. Upon consideration of all the circumstances, the court determined that at the time Slovsky was injured, he was reasonably engaged in ministering to his personal comfort, and that his conduct did not constitute a departure from the course of his employment.

The Court found the circumstances in King Waterproofing to be significantly distinguishable from those in Maryland Casualty Co. v. Insurance Co. of North America, 248 Md. 704, 238 A.2d 88 (1968). In Maryland Casualty, the Court of Appeals held that an injury sustained by an employee of a racing stable occurred in the course of employment where the employee was injured while en route by automobile to a restaurant near the race track to have coffee. Id. The employee in Maryland Casualty was on call around the clock and was paid on that basis. Although there was a cafeteria located at the race track, the record indicated that its location was far enough away from the employee’s work area that a car was considered necessary to get there and return. The Court relied on those facts, “coupled with the knowledge of the employer that his employees frequently left the track for coffee and meals and that they did so with his approval,” in concluding that the employee was injured “within the course of his employment.”

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