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Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Holds An Employee’s Attempts to Render Aid to an Injured Co-Worker Fall Within the Course and Scope of His Employment

Recently, the Commonwealth Court addressed the issue of whether an employee claimant who injured his left leg, knee, foot, ribs, back, head, and lungs while attempting to aid another co-worker was within the course and scope of his employment under the Workers’ Compensation Act. In this case, the employer had a contract to install a new addition to a sanitation department plant, including installing new pipelines and manholes. The claimant worked on the plant job site, which included a concrete pit with a ladder attached to the side. The claimant had worked in the pit for this employer before.

While installing a new pipeline in an area about 30 feet from the concrete pit, the claimant heard an employee calling for help, “man down. Jack fell,” and he and two coworkers rushed to the area to assist. An employee was lying at the bottom of the pit. The claimant descended the ladder along with two other men to assist the employee who had fallen.

When the claimant stood up, he knew something was wrong, and as he tried to climb out of the pit, he lost consciousness, falling from the ladder 20 feet or so to the bottom of the pit. The claimant’s co-employees determined methane gas was in the pit. The claimant did not recall being warned about methane gases in the pit, and he also stated that no one warned him not to go into the pit when he did.

Procedurally, the claimant filed a Claim Petition, listing injuries to his left leg, knee, foot, ribs, back, and lungs. The employer denied that the claimant was within the course and scope of employment when he was injured. After the Workers’ Compensation Judge concluded the claimant was within the course and scope of employment, they issued an order granting his claim petition. The employer appealed to the Board, and the Board affirmed the decision. The employer then petitioned the appellate court for review.

The appellate court stated that review is limited to determining whether the Workers’ Compensation Judge’s findings are supported by evidence. The determination of whether a claimant’s injuries fall within the scope of the Act is a question of law, determined by fact. The court also stated that, since the Act is “remedial in nature,” it should be liberally construed, with the intention of benefiting the worker. Finally, the claimant bears the burden of proving the elements necessary to support an award of workers’ compensation benefits.

The court stated that the Act provides for injuries sustained in furtherance of the business or affairs of the employer, as well as other injuries occurring on premises occupied or controlled by the employer. Two tests help determine if an injury occurred in the course of employment. The first test asks if the employee was actually engaged in furtherance of the employer’s business or affairs. The second test requires that the employee be on the employer’s premises, be required by the nature of the employment to be on the premises, and have sustained injuries caused by the condition of the premises or the operation of the employer’s business.

The appellate court discussed the Supreme Court’s decision in Kmart, a case in which an employee suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after coming to the aid of a co-worker during her lunch break. Following Kmart, the Workers’ Compensation Act was amended to provide benefits for employees who go to the aid of a person and suffer injury or death as a result of preventing the commission of a crime, or rendering emergency care, first aid, or rescue.

As in Kmart, the key questions are whether the individual is an employee under the Act, and whether the action taken by the employee falls within one of two categories of aid to another.

The court stated that the amendment is central to the dispute in the current case. There was no dispute that the claimant was an employee of the employer, and his duties included installing the new pipeline. At the time the claimant heard the call for help, about 30 feet from where he was working, he was installing a pipe, in performance of the employer’s contract. The court stated that at the time of the emergency, the claimant was actually engaged in the “furtherance” of the employer’s business, and he was therefore within the course and scope of his employment.

The employer argued that rendering aid removed the claimant from the course and scope of his employment, since his employment duties did not include rendering aid to another. The court stated that the question is whether, when the claimant heard the call for help, his activities satisfied one of the two tests under the Act.

The court concluded that at the time the emergency took place, the claimant was actually engaged in furtherance of the employer’s business and was therefore within the course and scope of his employment. Attempts to render aid do not constitute abandonment of employment.

The court in this case liberally construed the Workers’ Compensation Act. At the Needle Law Firm, our workers’ compensation attorneys represent employees injured in the course and scope of their employment. Contact the office today at 570-344-1266.

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