“Abnormal Working Conditions” In a Pa. Work Injury Workers Compensation Case

Date: September 20, 2011
Posted In: DLP Law
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        The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ruled that a general manager of a Pennsylvania State Liquor Store, who was working the evening shift when the store was robbed by a masked man brandishing two guns, was not entitled to workers compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The general manager (“Claimant”) had filed a Claim Petition seeking total disability benefits alleging that he sustained a Pa. work injury in the form of PTSD as a result of being robbed at gun point while in the course and scope of his employment. In cases alleging a psychic work injury, the claimant must prove that he was exposed to abnormal working conditions and that his psychological problems are not a subjective reaction to normal working conditions.  The facts of the case indicated that during the robbery, the perpetrator pointed both guns at the Claimant and prodded the back of the Claimant\’s head with a gun. The perpetrator stole money from the cash register and an office, tied the Claimant and his co-worker to chairs with duct tape and then fled the store. Neither the Claimant nor the co-worker was physically injured during the robbery. However, after the robbery, the Claimant alleged symptoms of anxiety, depression, and flashbacks, and asserted that he could not return to work. He began treating with a psychologist who diagnosed him with PTSD. Claimant then filed a Claim Petition seeking total disability benefits and payment of medical expenses related to the PTSD diagnosis.

         The record indicated that the employer, prior to the incident in question, provided the Claimant with training on workplace violence, some of which was addressed robberies and thefts. Claimant admitted that he attended these trainings and received educational booklets on these subjects.

         The Court concluded that the Claimant could have anticipated being robbed at gunpoint. Moreover, when determining whether a working condition is abnormal, the Court considered the frequency of its occurrence in the specific industry. The employer presented uncontested evidence that there had been 99 robberies of its retail stores in the Claimant’s region since 2002, which equated to about 15 robberies per year or more than one robbery per month. The record also reflected that there had been four retail liquor store robberies in close proximity to the Claimant\’s store location within just weeks of the robbery in this case. The Court stated that, considering the frequency with which the employer\’s stores had been robbed and the proximity of the recent incidents, robberies of liquor stores are a normal condition of retail liquor store employment in today\’s society.

          Therefore, the Court ruled that the circumstances of this robbery did not constitute an “abnormal working condition” and the claim for benefits was denied.

Tom Cummings
Thomas P. Cummings has been a Partner with Dougherty Leventhal & Price, LLP since 1996 and has been with the firm since 1991. He focuses his practice on workers’ compensation, Social Security Disability and personal injury cases.