Workers’ Compensation Benefits. When can you collect?
US Air v. WCAB (Bockleman)
If you get injured while working at your employer’s office, store, or warehouse, and cannot do your job, you will have a right to receive workers’ compensation benefits. But if you hurt yourself in a car accident on your drive to work, you will not have a right to collect benefits. What happens, though, if you sustain injuries, not in your employer’s building but nearby, and it happens before your shift starts, or after it ends? The Pennsylvania Supreme Court discussed these important issues in a decision that it released in November 2019.
In this case, US Air v. WCAB (Bockleman), a woman, Ms. Bockleman, worked as a flight attendant for US Air. To get to the airport in Philadelphia, Bockleman drove to a parking lot where airport employees parked, and then took a shuttle bus to the terminal. One day, she worked on flights from Philadelphia to Miami and from Miami to Philadelphia. When she returned to the terminal after the flight back to Philadelphia, she boarded the shuttle bus to the parking lot, and while lifting her suitcase onto one of the racks, she slipped in a puddle of water, breaking her foot.
Bockleman hired a lawyer to file a claim for benefits, which went before a workers’ compensation judge. US Air’s lawyer argued that Bockleman was not entitled to benefits because she injured herself off of its premises, on a shuttle bus that it did not own, when she had already completed her shift.
The workers’ compensation judge ruled in Bockleman’s favor and granted her benefits. US Air appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, and Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and all three courts agreed with the judge that Bockleman was entitled to benefits.
In its decision, the Supreme Court carefully analyzed the issue of whether the judge properly granted benefits. The Supreme Court stated that when an employee is injured while not furthering the employer’s business (in other words, not doing something related to their job), the employee must prove that the injuries occurred on the premises occupied by or under the control of the employer, the employee was required by the nature of their employment to be present on the premises, and the injuries were caused by a condition of the premises.
US Air argued that Bockleman’s claim should have been denied because it did not own the shuttle bus on which she sustained her injuries, nor did it own the parking lot that she was taking the bus to; the City of Philadelphia owned both. That US Air did not own the bus or the parking lot did not matter to the Supreme Court – they ruled that the critical factor is not the employer’s ownership or control over the area in question, but that the employer caused the area to be used by the employee in the performance of their job. The Court elaborated, stating that the term “employer’s premises” includes any area that is vital to the employer’s business operations, such as any reasonable means of traveling to and from the workplace.
Because the shuttle bus was a means by which US Air employees, including Bockleman, traveled to and from the airport to do their job, the Supreme Court agreed with the judge and the other courts that the bus was considered part of the employer’s premises, and therefore she was entitled to benefits. The Court went on to state that parking lots, public streets, and common areas in multi-unit office building complexes may be considered part of an employer’s premises.
The Supreme Court stated other principles of workers’ compensation law in its ruling. An injury that occurs when an employee is off the clock does not bar workers’ compensation benefits as long as the injury occurred a reasonable amount of time before or after the shift ended. Bockleman’s foot injury occurred just minutes after she completed her shift, so that did not prevent her from receiving benefits.
Furthermore, it was important that Bockleman’s injury occurred as a result of a condition of the premises. Bockleman injured herself because there was water on the floor of the shuttle bus on which she slipped. If the floor was not wet, and she just clumsily tripped over her feet, she likely would not have received benefits because the injury would not have been caused by a condition of the premises.
The take-away for you from the Supreme Court’s decision is that if you injure yourself off of your employer’s job site and before or after your shift, and think to yourself, “I must not be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits,” think again. You very well may have a viable workers’ compensation claim. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s critical that you promptly contact Pearson Koutcher Law so that one of our highly-skilled, experienced workers’ compensation lawyers can discuss the facts of your case with you, and if necessary file a petition on your behalf to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for you.