eNotes: Workers’ Compensation – March 2023 – Pennsylvania
March 17, 2023
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
Pennsylvania Case Summaries
Owens v. SJ Retail Services, Inc. (WCAB)
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
No. 182 C.D. 2022
Decided: February 16, 2023
A Claimant who left her workspace to continue an argument with a customer was not in the course and scope of employment at the time of her injury.
A customer entered a store where the Claimant was working and started berating the Claimant for not wearing a mask. The Claimant asked the customer to leave, and the two individuals started a heated exchange. The Claimant followed the customer out of the store and grabbed the customer’s truck as he drove away, leading to a fractured wrist and hip. The Claimant filed a Claim Petition seeking benefits for the injury. The WCJ granted the petition, but the Board reversed, concluding that the Claimant had abandoned the course and scope of her employment, and her actions constituted something wholly foreign thereto. The Claimant appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Board. The court held that the Claimant’s pursuit of the customer was solely to continue the heated exchange and had no purpose related to further the employer’s business. The Claimant’s actions were so far removed from her duties that it constituted an abandonment of the course and scope of her employment. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court affirmed.
This case shows that even an altercation that is initiated while the Claimant is within the course and scope of employment may no longer be in the course and scope of employment by the time the Claimant sustains an injury if the Claimant is no longer furthering the employer’s business.
Questions about this case can be directed to John T. Morgan, Esq., at 267-861-7580 or email@example.com.
Broomall v. Alpha Sintered Metals, LLC (WCAB)
Commonwealth Court of PA
No. 422 C.D. 2022
Decided: February 7, 2023
An injury from falling while exiting the car after arriving home from a trip to therapy for his accepted work injury was not compensable.
Claimant sustained a compensable injury to his right shoulder, and the employer accepted this injury. Claimant eventually underwent surgery for the work injury and, following this procedure, attended physical therapy. One day, Claimant was returning home from therapy when he slipped and fell while getting out of his car in his driveway. It was noted that the driveway was covered in snow and ice at the time of the Claimant’s fall. Claimant sustained an injury to his left shoulder and had to undergo surgery. Claimant filed a Review Petition, seeking to add the left shoulder as part of the accepted October 24, 2019 work injury. The WCJ denied the petition, on the basis that Claimant’s fall at home following his therapy appointment was not casually related to the acknowledged right shoulder work injury. The Judge reasoned that, once the Claimant arrived home following his appointment, he was no longer covered by the “but for” rule. The Claimant appealed and the Appeal Board affirmed the Judge’s decision.
On appeal, the Claimant argued that his left shoulder injury should be included in the accepted work injury, as he was furthering his Employer’s interests by receiving treatment for the accepted work injury and that, “but for” traveling to and from that treatment, he would not have fallen. Claimant also argued that his injury was compensable under the “special circumstances” exception to the “coming and going” rule. With respect to the “but for” argument, the Court explained that this test has been used in instances to establish causation when a Claimant sustains separate injuries from a subsequent dissociated event that he otherwise would not have sustained if it was not for a previously incurred work injury. The Court rejected the Claimant’s “but for” argument in the instant case, because Claimant was already home when his left shoulder injury occurred. The Court maintained that Claimant was not seeking treatment for the accepted work injury at the time he was injured, but rather he was standing in his driveway. The Court reasoned that to extend the “but for” standard in the instant case would “subject employers to liability for every unsafe condition on a Claimant’s property.” The Court found that, in the instant case, “but for” the ice and snow in the Claimant’s driveway, it appeared that Claimant would not have fallen. The Court held that because Claimant failed to establish that he was engaged in an activity that he would not have undertaken but for the compensable injury, Claimant’s subsequent left shoulder injury was not compensable.
The Court also dismissed Claimant’s argument that he fell within the “special circumstances” exception to the “coming and going” rule. In a prior decision, the Court had found that an injury sustained while driving to a physical therapy session did fall within the “special circumstances” exception to the “coming and going” rule. The Court distinguished the instant case on the basis that Claimant did not sustain his left shoulder injury while driving directly to his therapy session, but rather after he was already home from that therapy session. The Court again emphasized that the Claimant’s injury took place in “his own snow and ice covered” driveway. The Court found that Claimant was not furthering the Employer’s interests at the time of his fall because he was at home.
While this is an unreported decision, the reasoning applied by the Court should be considered a “win” for employers. The Court’s decision in this case hinged on the fact that this Claimant was injured, not while traveling to or from his therapy appointment, but rather once he was at his home and on his “snow and ice covered” driveway.
Questions about this case can be directed to Lee Ann Rhodes, at 412-926-1453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evans v. Michael Hostter and Benjamin Lepper
Superior Court of Pennsylvania
No. 39 MDA 2022
Decided: February 17, 2023
The coworker immunity provision of the Act grants immunity to defendant-employees from civil suit for negligently injuring a plaintiff-employee while “in the same employ” as the plaintiff-employee, regardless of whether the defendant-employees were acting in the course and scope of their employment.
The plaintiff-appellant alleged that the defendant-appellees caused her injuries while they were neither on the clock nor acting within the course and scope of their employment, but rather while they were horsing around and running about wildly. The coworker immunity provision of the WCA states “if disability or death is compensable under this Act, a person shall not be liable to anyone at common law or otherwise on account of such disability or death for any act or omission occurring while such person was in the same employ as the person disabled or killed, except for intentional wrong.”
In a non-precedential decision, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania applied Section 205 of the Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”), 77 P.S. §72 and affirmed the trial court’s order sustaining the defendant-appellees’ preliminary objections and dismissing the plaintiff-appellant’s second amended complaint.
The Court cited to Apple v. Reichert, 278 A.2d 482 (Pa. 1972) and applied the “in the same employ” requirement broadly, looking to the employment status of the defendant-appellees, not to their potential negligent actions that injured the plaintiff-appellant. The question is not whether the defendant-appellees were acting within the course and scope of their employment, as the appellee-plaintiff argued. The defendant-appellees were “in the same employ” as the appellant-plaintiff at the time they injured her, regardless of whether they had clocked out. The test is whether the employee is acting as an employee or has transitioned due to the passage of time or other events into a customer of the employer or a member of the public.
The coworker immunity provision of the WCA applies as long as a defendant-employee is within the same employ as the plaintiff-employee and the provision is to be construed broadly.
Questions about this case can be directed to Cailey Farinaro, Esquire at 610-332-7008 or email@example.com.