Atlanta, GA— Relying on an analysis of Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act, The Georgia Court of Appeals this week reversed a summary judgment decision against the family of a grocery store worker who sued the store over her death in a 2015 parking lot shooting.
In an opinion by Chief Judge Christopher McFadden, the Court found fact issues remained over whether the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act barred the family of Fabiola Zavaleta-Ramirez from recovering in a tort suit against the store and its owners.
“Given the evidence showing the store did not own, maintain, or control the parking lot, a jury would at least be authorized to conclude that Zavaleta-Ramirez’s death in an after-work shooting in that parking lot did not occur in the course of her employment, and thus was not compensable under the Act," the Court concluded. “Consequently, defendants are not entitled to summary judgment under the Act’s exclusive remedy provision.”
Zavaleta-Ramirez was killed during a robbery attempt shortly after she clocked out of work, and as she stood in the Mableton, Georgia store's parking lot speaking with a fellow employee. Her family sued the store and its owners, as well as others. The store and its owners, however, countered that the family’s tort claims against them were barred by the Act’s exclusive remedy provision, O.C.G.A. § 34-9-11(a). The trial-level, Cobb County State Court agreed, granting the store’s motion for summary judgment.
However, in its decision published Wednesday, the appellate court noted that an injury is considered compensable under the Act, and thus subject to its exclusivity provision, only if it “arises out of” and “in the course of” employment— two independent tests.
Plaintiffs acknowledged the injury met the “arising out of” element of the exclusivity provision, but argued a question existed as to whether the shooting was “in the course of” Zavaleta-Ramirez’s employment.
The Court agreed, noting that the parking lot in which the shooting occurred was not owned by the store and served a number of of other businesses at the strip-mall location.
“A jury could find from the evidence in this case that the shooting did not occur on the store’s premises because the store did not own, maintain, or control the parking lot where the shooting occurred,” Chief Judge McFadden wrote.
Vice Chief Judge Carla Wong McMillian and Senior Appellate Judge Herbert E. Phipps concurred in the opinion.
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