Several times a year, the highest court in the state, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, agrees to hear a case which presents important issues pertaining to workers’ compensation law. One such case, which the Supreme Court should decide by the end of 2020, involves a worker who was injured in a motor vehicle accident after attending a work function. The Court will make a ruling on whether he was in the course of his employment when his accident occurred.
In this case, a man named Peters was employed by Cintas Corporation as a sales representative. He sometimes worked at his company’s office in Allentown but spent a lot of time calling on clients and prospective clients in his territory. One day in 2015, Mr. Peters drove to the Pottsville area, which was part of his territory, to call on clients. He worked a full day and then headed back to the Allentown area where he lived. He bypassed the exit off the highway which would have led to his home but instead drive to a restaurant in Allentown where a company social event was being held. It was optional; Cintas employees were not required to attend. The company paid for drinks and appetizers for the employees. On his way home from the restaurant, Mr. Peters was involved in a car accident as a result of which he sustained multiple injuries.
Mr. Peters’ case went before a Workers’ Compensation Judge which denied him benefits on the basis that he was not in the course of his employment when his accident occurred. Mr. Peters appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board and the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania; both upheld the Judge’s unfavorable decision. Mr. Peters than filed a Petition for Allowance of Appeal, requesting that the Supreme Court hear his case. Even though the Supreme Court only agrees to hear less than 10% of cases, they decided to review this case because of the importance of the issues. Specifically, the Court will delve into the following issues:
If you have a job in which you drive or take public transportation to your employer’s business, do your work, and go home, you are considered a stationary employee because the place where you do your work does not change. If you are involved in a car accident or bus accident on your way from home to work or work to home, you are not entitled to workers’ comp. benefits. In Pennsylvania workers’ comp. law, this is called the coming and going rule.
However, if your job requires you to travel from location to location so you don’t have a fixed place of employment, you are considered a traveling employee and are entitled to workers’ comp. benefits if you have an accident going from home to your first appointment or from your last appointment to home (or if your accident happened going from one appointment to the next). For example, suppose you’re a cable technician and your company provides you with a vehicle which you drive home each night. If you are rear-ended while driving to the home of your first customer of the day, you would be entitled to workers’ comp. benefits – the coming and going rule would not apply because you are a traveling employee.
If Mr. Peters bypassed the company event and drove straight from his appointment in Pottsville to his home in the Allentown area, and his accident occurred when he was turning into his neighborhood, the Judge would have likely ruled in his favor. The tricky part, though, is that instead of going home, he chose to attend the function at the restaurant. Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law provides that if a traveling employee’s actions are so foreign and removed from their employment, the employee has abandoned their employment, and any injuries sustained are not covered by workers’ comp. In agreeing with the Workers’ Compensation Judge and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, the Commonwealth Court ruled that when Mr. Peters drove past the exit which would have taken him home and opted to head to the restaurant, he abandoned his employment. And even though he attended a company function, because it was more of a social event than a business event, according to the Commonwealth Court, he was not furthering his employer’s interests.
However, there was one Commonwealth Court Judge on the panel of seven Judges who reviewed the case and disagreed with the conclusions rendered by the majority of the Judges. She wrote a dissenting opinion, stating that she believed Mr. Peters did not abandon his employment simply because he went straight to the restaurant; and also felt it was important that while the company event wasn’t mandatory, the company paid for the beverages and food. The Supreme Court will wrestle with these issues and decide whether to agree with the courts below and hold that Mr. Peters was not in the course of his employment or agree with the dissenting Judge and find that Mr. Peters was in fact in the course of his employment.
Whether you are a traveling employee or stationary employee; you get injured in a motor vehicle accident or at your employer’s workplace, you need an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer by your side to make sure that your rights are protected. You need a lawyer at Pearson Koutcher Law – workers’ comp. is all we do. Please call us for a free consultation.