SC High Court Rules for Injured Migrant Worker

February 17, 2010 ( – The South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that a seasonal worker who suffered a fractured ankle while living in an employer-provided tin-roofed barracks should be eligible for worker’s compensation benefits even though he was not on the job.

The state’s high court held that the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission and a state court judge were wrong when they decided Frantz Pierre’s 2003 injury would not be covered because he was not at work and not required to live in the employer-provided housing where the injury occurred.The court found Pierre was essentially required to live on the grounds of a packing house because he and other migrant workers employed by Seaside Farms Inc. “did not earn enough to obtain housing, and short-term rentals that coincided with the time they would be in the area did not exist.”

The court also pointed out that the nature of the job mandated workers should live near the packing facility and that the living arrangement was convenient for the employer’s work schedule that varied with weather and crop conditions.

Pierre was hurt the evening before his first day of work when he fell on a sidewalk where water was flowing from an outdoor sink used to wash clothes.

According to the opinion, courts in four other states had released similar decisions that rely on a “bunkhouse rule,” which requires giving injured workers compensation when they are hurt on an employer’s premises when required to be there.  

The South Carolina Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. The opinion is available here