If you injure yourself while at work, the general rule is that you’re entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. But what if you sustain injuries on your way to work or when you have arrived at work and are about to enter your building? In a case in which a worker comp lawyer at Pearson Koutcher represented the injured worker, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recently issued a decision which addressed these issues and is a victory for injured workers.
Maurice Stewart performed janitorial work for Bravo Group Services. He did his work at the Smith Kline building in King of Prussia. He worked Monday through Friday, from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. To get to work, Mr. Stewart took public transportation from his home in Philadelphia to the Gulph Mills Station, and then took a shuttle van to the front entrance of the Smith Kline building. Mr. Stewart’s employer, Bravo, did not own or operate the shuttle van; the shuttle was owned and operated by Smith Kline. Mr. Stewart was not required to take the shuttle – he had the option to travel to Smith Kline by any means he chose — and he was not paid for his time while riding the shuttle.
Mr. Stewart’s custom was to arrive at the Smith Kline building at 4:30 p.m., a half-hour before the start of his shift. He would read a newspaper, eat a snack, and then clock in for his shift. One day in 2018, Mr. Stewart as usual took the shuttle from the Gulph Mills station to the Smith Kline building. The shuttle arrived, and when Mr. Stewart was stepping off, he tripped, causing his left foot to twist and he landed on the ground. Mr. Stewart’s fall occurred at 4:32 p.m., 28 minutes before the start of his shift. Mr. Stewart sustained foot injuries which required him to undergo medical treatment and miss several months of work. Mr. Stewart hired a worker comp lawyer at Pearson Koutcher to represent him in his workers’ compensation claim against Bravo.
Mr. Stewart testified at a deposition and before the Workers’ Compensation Judge assigned to his case. There was no dispute that Mr. Stewart sustained disabling injuries as a result of his fall; the issue before the Judge was whether his injuries occurred in the course of his employment. A person’s injuries must occur in the course of his employment for him to be entitled to workers’ comp. benefits.
Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law provides that an injury arises in the course of employment in two distinct situations:
An injury is compensable (the person is entitled to workers’ comp. benefits) if it occurs while the worker is furthering the business or affairs of his employer, regardless of where the injury occurs. In other words, if a roofer loads supplies into his truck at his employer’s warehouse and then drives to a customer’s home to install a roof, the roofer would be entitled to workers’ comp. benefits if he injured himself at the warehouse or at the customer’s home because either way, he was furthering his employer’s business.
Even if the injured worker was not furthering the employer’s business at the time of the injury, his claim is compensable if:
The injury occurred on the premises occupied or under the control of the employer;
The injured worker was required by the nature of his employment to be present on the employer’s premises;
The injury was caused by a condition of the premises.
Another workers’ compensation principle which bears relevance to this discussion is the “coming and going rule” which provides that injuries sustained while an employee is traveling to or from his place of employment are not compensable because the employee is neither on the employer’s premises, nor furthering the employer’s business.
In Mr. Stewart’s case, the Workers’ Compensation Judge ruled that he was not in the course of employment when he fell because the shuttle was not part of Bravo’s premises. The Judge reasoned that Bravo did not own or operate the shuttle (Smith Kline did), and Bravo played no role in deciding how its employees travelled to and from work. We appealed the Judge’s decision to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB for short). The WCAB agreed with the Judge that Mr. Stewart was not in the course of employment, agreeing that he was not on the employer’s premises and that the “coming and going” rule also prevented him from receiving benefits because he was injured while commuting to work.
Because we strongly believed that both the Judge and WCAB had erroneously decided the case, we appealed to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth Court reviewed the facts of Mr. Stewart’s case, carefully analyzed the law, and stated as follows in its decision:
The “coming and going rule” did not apply because at the time of his fall, Mr. Stewart’s commute was completed; the shuttle had arrived at the Smith Kline building.
Prong (a) above was met because even though the shuttle was not owned or operated by Bravo, the shuttle was considered an integral part of its premises because Bravo employees like Mr. Stewart used the shuttle. The Commonwealth Court relied on a 2019 decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which found that a flight attendant for US Air who was injured on a shuttle bus traveling from the Philadelphia Airport to an airport parking lot was entitled to benefits because the shuttle bus was an integral part of USAir’s premises.
Prong (b) above was satisfied because the front entrance to the Smith Kline building was a reasonable means of access for Bravo employees to access the premises, and the injury occurred less than a half-hour – a reasonable time – before the start of Mr. Stewart’s shift.
Prong (c) above was met because even though there was no negligence or fault which played a role in Mr. Stewart’s fall, Mr. Stewart’s injury would have not occurred had he not landed on the ground – a condition of the premises.
For all of these reasons, the Commonwealth Court reversed the decisions of the Workers’ Compensation Judge and WCAB and held that Mr. Stewart was in the course of employment when he fell and therefore is entitled to workers’ comp. benefits for the time that he missed from his job at Bravo as a result of his foot injuries.
If you have injured yourself at work, or on your way to work, or when you’re about to enter your workplace, you well may have a viable workers’ compensation claim. If you are unfortunate enough to have this happen to you, it is important that you have a top worker comp lawyer by your side. Every worker comp lawyer at our firm has been representing injured workers for more than 25 years and has handled countless cases. We will vigorously represent you and fight the insurance company every step of the way, up to the Commonwealth Court or even Supreme Court if necessary. Please call Pearson Koutcher at 217-627-0700 for a free comprehensive evaluation – we look forward to hearing from you.