Is Your Work Injury Compensable?
These conditions might seem rather straightforward. However, Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn Workers’ Compensation Attorney Donald Ligorio cautions that “an examination of some court cases addressing these issues reveals the complexity which workers’ compensation claimants may face”.
Generally speaking, workers’ compensation doesn’t cover an employee commuting to or from work. (There are exceptions such as the employee not having a fixed place of work.) However, employees are typically covered under workers’ compensation from the time they arrive on company property until the time they leave. The employer’s obligations under the Workers’ Compensation Act may begin even before the workday begins. Injuries that occur during these times are typically compensable when they take place within a reasonable time.
In Weaver v. Breinig, No. 490 C.D. 2020 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. 2021), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, the Claimant had testified that she had fallen on the sidewalk adjacent to her Employer’s building, around her 8:00 a.m. start time, as she walked from her employer-leased parking spot in the Borough-owned lot. The fall took place when Claimant saw ice on the pathway, and slipped while trying to avoid it.
The Court held that while “walking to the Employer’s building from her parking space shortly before her shift started, Claimant was within the course of employment at the time of her injury. Construing ‘premises’ liberally, the term includes the route Claimant used to access the worksite from her parking space as a reasonable means of ingress to the worksite.”
The Court also concluded that all three prongs of the Slaugenhaupt test had been met, in that:
- 1. That the injury occurred on the employer’s premises;
- 2. The employee’s presence on the employer’s premises was required by the nature of her employment; and
- 3. The employee’s injury was caused by the condition of the premises or by the operation of the employer’s business thereon.
In the case of 1912 Hoover House Restaurant v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd., 103 A.3d 441 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. 2014), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania noted that a previous case had established that “neither small temporary departures from work to administer to personal comforts or convenience, nor inconsequential or innocent departures break the course of employment.”
The Claimant alleged that, as a result of being bitten by a co-worker’s dog he sustained facial lacerations in the course of his employment. The Claimant sought payment for disfigurement, medical bills, and counsel fees.
One of the Claimant’s co-workers stated that her father would be stopping by with her dog. The Claimant went outside to have a cigarette after the dog had arrived at the restaurant. While on his smoke break (which was allowed by the Employer) the Claimant had a conversation with the co-worker’s father, then petted the dog and let the dog lick his face. When the Claimant went to stand up, the dog growled and bit the Claimant’s lower lip.
The Court ruled that the Claimant’s act of petting his co-worker’s dog did not take him out of the scope of employment because it was “an inconsequential departure from his job as a line cook.”
PREMISES BUT NOT PROPERTY?
Can something be considered an employer’s premises if it’s not the employer’s property? The answer can be found in a 2018 Commonwealth Court case.
In US Airways v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, 221 A3d 171, (Pa. 2019) the Claimant was a Philadelphia-based flight attendant. In order to get to the airport, she drove her own vehicle to the airport and parked in one of the two designated employee parking lots, both of which are owned, operated, and maintained by the City of Philadelphia/Division of Aviation (DOA). The lots were for the use of all airport employees, not just those of Employer. After an employee parks, a shuttle bus transports the employee from the employee parking lot to the airport terminal (and vice versa). One night after returning to Philadelphia on a flight from Miami, the Claimant departed the terminal to the employee shuttle bus stop. After the Claimant boarded the shuttle bus, she attempted to lift her suitcase onto the luggage racks. While trying to place her luggage on the racks, she stepped in water on the floor, causing her right foot to slide out from underneath her. The Claimant’s left knee buckled, causing her to fall backwards, crushing her left foot under her.
The Employer did not own or exercise control over the shuttle buses, or require employees to use the airport employee parking lots. In fact, the Employer gave its employees no directive whatsoever in terms of how they should commute to work.
In construing the term ‘premises’ as contemplated by Section 301(c)(1) of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, the Court held determinative question is whether the site of the accident is sufficiently connected to the Employer’s Business that it can be considered an integral part of the Employer’s operations.
The Pa Supreme Court held that the Employer understood that, in order to arrive at their work area to start their shift, employees who drive to work invariably board the shuttle bus after their commute to the airport. Similarly, the Employer also understood that, in order to leave their work area at the end of their shift, employees who drive to work invariably board the shuttle bus to return to their vehicle. The Court concluded that based on these factors the shuttle bus was an integral part of Employer’s business and was properly determined to be part of the premises.