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What does “Course of Employment” mean in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation?

Our courts in Pennsylvania have held that an injury must be “in the course of” employment. An employee hurts their back lifting a heavy box at work – this is clearly in the course of employment. A nurse hurts her shoulder when a patient falls off balance – this is clearly in the course of employment. But there are situations where the actual manifestation of the injury need not occur in the course of employment. One of these situations include circumstances or factors causing the injury to occur in the course of employment even if the actual injury doesn’t.

Course of Employment
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This can arise in a heart attack situation where a claimant sustains a myocardial infarction that had the onset at home or elsewhere – but not at work.

The Case that Set the Precedent

Krawchuk vs. Philadelphia Electric Co., 439 A.2d 627 (Pa. 1981).

The details of the case go something like this.

“At the time of his death, Claimant’s decedent was working under great and unusual stress stemming from the work he was doing in connection with a special project known as “PMS4?, and a treatise he was to deliver, on behalf of his employer, in California a few days later (9). In addition to the special project and other duties, Claimant’s decedent had also been working for several weeks on the preparation of a treatise to be delivered in California (10). All of the above activities constituted additional and unusual exertion on the part of Claimant’s decedent, arising from and related to his employment (11). On the day prior to the heart attack, Claimant’s decedent was examined by Dr. Albert J. Kraft, who, at that time, found the Claimant’s decedent to appear tired and under great stress due to his added work load. *118 (12).

Workers Comp Case Philadelphia

For five hours prior to the heart attack, Claimant’s decedent had been working at his home on the treatise which he was to deliver on behalf of his employer at a convention to be held in California a few days thereafter (13). Dr. Kraft, a cardiology specialist, testified as to a causal relationship between the stress occasioned by Claimant’s decedent’s heavy work load and the fatal coronary, which he sustained on May 10, 1973; and stated unequivocally that there was a causal relationship between the stressful events concerned with the decedent’s work and his death from myocardial infarction.

(Notes of Testimony, 10/21/74, pages 16 and 17). (Emphasis added).”

What Does the Case Prove?

The court found that in certain circumstances, to establish ‘course of employment’ it is not necessary for the actual injury to take place during the actual work.

In this case, for example, while the heart attack itself didn’t happen at work, the events causing it were work-related, according to the Judge. Krawchuk has since been followed by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

Bottom Line:

Think about it. This makes absolute sense. The place where the symptoms are experienced or felt, doesn’t necessary have to be at work – but if the work activities caused the symptoms, it can be a work – related injury nevertheless.

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