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Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Course of Employment- Commonwealth Court Weighs In- Lombardi vs. WCAB

In a recent unreported Decision, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania found in favor of the injured worker, who was not yet on the clock, and on her way to eat breakfast in an office building where she worked, when she tripped and fell and fractured her forearm and wrist. In Lombardi vs. WCAB (UPMC Health Plan, Inc. 208 CD 2020 (Unreported PA Comm. 2021), the Court applied the three-pronged test in Slaugenhaupt, to find that Claimant, a telephonic nurse case manager, was in the course of employment under 301 (c) (1) of the PA Work Comp Act when she was injured.

Claimant arrived 30 minutes for work in a building not owned by her Employer. She was on her way to the ground floor to get breakfast, to bring to her cubicle, when she tripped and fell, while approaching the escalator, fracturing her right forearm and wrist. The Work Comp Judge, in bifurcated proceedings (ie, the parties agreed that the Judge would first rule on this issue rather than litigating all issues together), found that Claimant was not in the course of employment. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board affirmed the Decision.

However, the Commonwealth Court wisely reversed. They first reminded us that there are two types of cases that are compensable under 301 (c) (1) of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act- the first is when a claimant is actually enaged in the futherance of the employer’s business or affairs, on or off the employer’s premises. The second set of cases is where a claimant is not engaged in her work when injured. In these cases, the Court looks to the three factors from Slaugenhaupt: 1) Was Claimant on premises under the control of Employer, 2) Is Claimant required to be there by the nature of her employment, and 3) Did Claimant sustained injures due to a condition of the premises. (An employer’s premises under Section 301(c)(1) of the Act is not limited to property that the employer legally owns or controls; common areas in multi-unit office buildings may be considered part of an employer’s premises if they constitute a reasonable means of ingress to, or egress from, the workplace.) You must meet all three elements.

The Court went through each element and found Claimant satisfied them. 1) Ownership of the Steel Tower where she worked on the 37th floor didn’t matter. Where she was injured was a reasonable means of ingress and egress to the 37th Floor where her work would be done. 2) The injury occurred reasonably proximate to her work hours. She arrived 15 to 30 minute early and unlike some cases that Employer proffered, the Court distinguished the facts in this case, noting that arriving 15 to 30 minutes early was advancing Employer’s interests.  3) This element wasn’t challenged- it was clear that Claimant’s injury occurred due to a condition of the premises (this is a very liberal element and easy to meet in most cases).

Accordingly, the Court remanded the case back to the WCJ to make findings about whether the injury- now found to have been within the course and scope of her employment, caused disability, etc.

As attorneys representing injured workers, this is a good case, albeit unreported, as the Court applied the proper test, and reasoned through each element to come up with the proper result rather than following the faulty WCJ and WCAB analysis.

 

 

 

 

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