Employee in the Scope and Course of his Employment at the Time of Death

Though the phrase “scope and course of employment” does not appear anywhere in the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, this is a frequent issue involved with appellate cases.  After all, a work injury is only compensable if one was performing his or her job at the time of the injury.  This issue often depends on the particular facts of each case.  A recent decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania continues this concept.

In Rana v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Asha Corporation), the injured worker (“Claimant”) was a manager-in-training for a Dunkin Donuts franchisee.  The franchisee owned locations in Wyncote, Horsham, and Hatfield.  Claimant primarily worked as a manager at the Wyncote location, but would be expected to travel to the other locations occasionally for operational issues.  One night, after Claimant finished his regular shift at the Wyncote store, Claimant’s boss called him at home at 10:00 pm, and said an employee at the Hatfield location had a medical issue.  Claimant told his boss he would go in and see what was happening.  While heading to the location, Claimant was in a motor vehicle accident, and unfortunately was fatally injured.

A Fatal Claim Petition was filed by Claimant’s parents, who were dependent upon him.  After hearing the evidence, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the Fatal Claim Petition, finding that Claimant “was furthering Employer’s business and was on a special assignment for Employer. Thus, Decedent was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident and Claimants were entitled to collect compensation.”

Upon appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) reversed the decision of the WCJ.  As we have discussed on this blog in the past, the commute to or from work is typically not covered by the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.  This is known as the “Coming and Going” rule.  Since the WCAB found that Claimant was performing his regular job duties by going to the Hatfield location, the WCAB concluded that Claimant was merely commuting to work and the WCJ erred in granting the Fatal Claim Petition.

This decision of the WCAB, however, was reversed by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, who found that the WCJ correctly granted the Fatal Claim Petition.  The Coming and Going rule applies to stationary employees; travelling employees have greater latitude.  Determining whether a worker is “stationary” requires finding whether he or she had a fixed place of employment.  Looking at the evidentiary record, the Court found Claimant had a fixed place of employment at the Wyncote store, but that he was a travelling employee with regard to the Horsham and Hatfield locations.  He regularly worked at the Wyncote store, and there is no evidence he had ever previously been to the Hatfield location.  As such, Claimant was a travelling employee at the time of the injury, so the motor vehicle accident was within the scope and course of his employment.

The Court also noted that, even had Claimant been a stationary employee at the time of the injury, the accident still would have taken place within the scope and course of his employment.  The facts of the case establish that Claimant “would have been on a special assignment for his employer at the time of the accident.”  This is an exception to the Coming and Going rule, and would still lead to a granting of the Fatal Claim Petition.  The Court related that Claimant had already worked his regular shift at the Wyncote store and was only then going to the Hatfield store to check on this ill employee.  The fact the boss mentioned this to Claimant establishes an inference that the boss wanted Claimant to go to the store.  This was saving his boss from having to make the trip.  As to this issue, the Court concluded, “He was on a special mission for his Employer and thus acting in the scope and course of his employment at the time of the fatal accident.”