Can a State of Emergency Result in Legal Liability for Employers?

Delaware Governor Jack Markell declared a state of emergency and instituted a driving ban limiting driving to emergency vehicles only as a result of the record-setting snow storms that hit the Northeast this week. While State government strongly urged employers to consider their employees’ safety and close their businesses for the duration of the state of emergency, nothing prohibited employers from opening for operation during the storm.

But employers should consider more than employee safety when choosing to open their businesses during a state of emergency. At least one case, decided by the Delaware Superior Court after the blizzard of 1996, noted that an employer could be liable for an employee’s injuries if the employee was called in to work during a state of emergency.

While the general rule is that an employer is not responsible for an employee’s injuries if those injuries are sustained outside of the employer’s property, there are exceptions. One such exception is that an employer may be liable for an employee’s injuries, sustained while travelling to the employer’s property, if the employee is called to work when he was not otherwise expected at work. This exception has not yet been applied to a case where an employee is injured coming into work during a state of emergency.

In the end, while it may be financially costly, employers will garner employee good will and avoid liability for employee injuries by closing during a state of emergency.

Garrison v. State, No. 96A-05-004, 1996 Del. Super. LEXIS 443 (Del. Super. Ct. Oct. 8, 1996).

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One response to “Can a State of Emergency Result in Legal Liability for Employers?”

  1. Tina says:

    I just had this problem yesterday’s (December 27 2010) blizzard. I think it is wrong for employers to be open during a state of emergency, and for them to expect us to endanger ourselves to get to work. Even the trains were down yesterday. It is time that employees’ rights were respected.

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