Work Injury- Course and Scope of Employment

Date: July 30, 2012
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The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ruled that a denial of workers compensation benefits was proper in a case involving the issue of whether the injured worker (“claimant”) was in the course and scope of employment when the injury occurred. In Penn State University v. WCAB (Smith), the Court has determined that evidence was insufficient to establish that the workers’ compensation claimant, Mr. Smith, injured himself while in the “course and scope” of his employment.  Smith broke both of his ankles when he jumped down a flight of stairs while on his lunch break. Typically, an injury is compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act only if the injury arises in the course of employment and is causally related thereto. An injury may be sustained in the course of employment under the Workers’ Compensation Act where the employee is injured on or off the employer’s premises while actually engaged in furtherance of the employer’s business or affairs. However, an activity that does not further the affairs of the employer will take the employee out of the course and scope of employment and serve as a basis for denial of the claim. Generally speaking, neither small temporary departures from work to administer to personal comforts or convenience, nor inconsequential or innocent departures will remove the claimant from the course and scope of employment.

In the day of his injury, Mr. Smith was cleaning dorm rooms at Perry Hall for Employer’s Housing Department.  Claimant left Perry Hall to take his 30 minute unpaid lunch leave at Bruno’s, an on-campus dining facility where Claimant had an employer-sponsored meal plan. Claimant was walking from Perry Hall to Bruno’s on a walkway that included three flights of stairs. He intentionally jumped down the second flight of approximately twelve steps, landing very hard with his feet flat and fractured both ankles.

The Court determined that Mr. Smith’s actions in light of the nature of his employment (performing housekeeping or cooking duties) could not be viewed as furthering employer’s business or affairs noting that he voluntarily jumped down a flight of stairs on a “whim”,  and that he had thoughts of doing it before the injury date. The Court went on to state that he did not trip or fall down the stairs, but walked up to the edge and jumped off the stairs and injured himself upon landing.  The Court concluded that the employer did not encourage in any way Claimant to jump a flight of stairs during his lunch break and that the facts did not establish that Smith’s actions furthered a specific interest of Employer.

If you’ve suffered a work injury and have questions about your claim, contact me at tcummings@dlplaw.com or call (570) 347-1011 for a free consultation.

 Disclaimer: The above article is for instructive purposes only and each case is fact sensitive.  Consultation with an attorney should be obtained instead of reliance upon the legal issues discussed in this column. 

 

 

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.