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Pennsylvania Case Reviews Whether Steel Worker Was In Scope of Employment During Accident

In previous blogs, we’ve discussed that in order to obtain Pennsylvania workers’ compensation benefits, the injury must have occurred while working in the course and scope of employment.  If an accident occurred while commuting to and from the workplace, workers’ compensation would not be available.  However, several jobs require workers to travel, and Pennsylvania law allows injured workers to receive benefits if the employment contract included transportation to and from work, if the employee does not have a permanent location of work, if the employee is on a special mission, or if the employee was furthering the business of the employer.

The exception of “no fixed place of employment” includes individuals like traveling salespersons or professionals who regularly go from location to location as part of their daily tasks.  However, a court can rule that there was a temporary fixed place of employment if the employee was assigned to one location for a period of time.

An example of a special mission is when the employee performs a specific task assigned by the employer that is not usually required in the day-to-day duties.  An example would be an employer directing an employee to a client’s office to become familiar with work handled in that office.  If the employee had an accident traveling to or from the office between regular work assignments, that injured employee could file a workers’ compensation claim.  The exception of “special circumstances” can vary from case to case, but the main question is whether or not the employee was furthering the business of the employer at the time of the injury.  

These last two exceptions were discussed at length in Simko v. United States Steel Corp.  The injured worker was a strand operator in the caster department and was required to attend two different types of safety meetings as part of his employment:  monthly safety meetings and stand-down meetings.  Attendance at the monthly meetings was a regular occurrence for the injured worker, and they were made a part of the published schedules.  The stand-down meetings, in contrast, were not frequent and were typically not placed on the schedule.

The injured employee had a car accident that resulted in a serious brain injury while he was on the way to one of the stand-down meetings.  The injured worker’s crew was the only one that incorporated the stand-down meetings into the scheduled monthly meetings.  Following the injury, the workers’ compensation judge entered an interlocutory order that the injury occurred while the worker was in the course and scope of employment.  The workers’ compensation judge called the drive to the meeting a “special mission.”

The insurance company appealed, and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) disagreed with the judge’s ruling, determining the the accident did not occur in the scope of employment.  The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania agreed with the WCAB and ruled out both the special mission exception and the special circumstances exception.  The court’s reasoning was that the stand-down meeting was incorporated into a regularly scheduled meeting, so it was not unusual or unique to the injured worker’s daily assigned tasks.  The travel was seen as part of the injured worker’s commute and not covered by workers’ compensation.

The experienced Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorneys at Needle Law Firm have the legal knowledge you need to sort through the nuances of the law. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 570-344-1266.

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