Injured Worker Hurt on Shuttle Bus Entitled to PA Workers’ Comp Benefits

Whether an employee hurt during the commute to work is covered by the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) is always a difficult analysis, and one we often encounter here.  Each case depends on the specific facts involved. While most employees (those who are “stationary” employees) are not covered for the commute to work, one reaches a point in the commute when the employee is no longer still commuting, but has, for the purposes of the law, arrived at work.  “Parking lot” cases are frequently an aspect of this situation.

Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania made a decision in the matter of  US Airways, Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Bockelman).  This was one of those “parking lot” cases.  Here, the employee (Claimant) labored for US Airways as a Philadelphia-based flight attendant.  Employees were not required to drive to work, but, if they did so, there were two designated employee parking lots.  These lots were owned, operated, and maintained by the City of Philadelphia/Division of Aviation (DOA), for the use of all airport employees, not just those of US Airways.  An employee identification badge was required to park in these lots.  A shuttle bus, operated by DOA (and not US Airways) then took the employee from the lots to the airport terminal.  Claimant hurt her left foot when she slipped while riding this shuttle bus after parking her car.

As could be expected, the Employer denied that Claimant was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, since her injury was sustained while on the commute to work.   A Claim Petition was filed.  After considering the evidence, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) found that Claimant was within the scope and course of her employment at the time of the injury, and granted the Claim Petition.  This was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB).

Upon further appeal, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania also affirmed.  In doing so, the Court rejected the argument of the Employer that Claimant was not injured by a condition of Employer’s premises (since Employer did not own or maintain the lot or the bus), or that Claimant was not required to use the shuttle bus.

Initially, the Court related that since Claimant was clearly not “actually engaged in the furtherance of Employer’s business,” in order to prevail, Claimant needed to prove three things:

(1) the injury occurred on Employer’s premises,

(2) Claimant’s presence thereon was required by the nature of her employment, and

(3) the injury was caused by the condition of the premises or by operation of Employer’s business thereon (there was no dispute that Claimant met this prong)

As to the first prong, the Court observed that it is not dispositive whether Employer actually owned or operated the parking lot or the shuttle bus.  What actually must be considered is “ . . . whether the site of the accident is so connected with the employer’s business as to form an integral part thereof.”  Said another way, we want to examine whether the Employer “had caused the area to be used by employees in performance of their assigned tasks.”  Importantly, the Court also noted that “reasonable means of access to the workplace is considered an integral part of the employer’s business, and, therefore, is part of the employer’s ‘premises.’”

Since the parking lots, and the shuttle buses, were “means of access customarily used by employees for ingress and egress” they became “such an integral part of an employer’s business as to be considered part of the premises.”  The Employer understood that its employees would be parking at the lots, and would be using the shuttle buses, to arrive at work.  This, said the Court, made those part of Employer’s premises for the purposes of the Act.

As to the second prong, the Court rejected the notion that Claimant was not “required” to take the shuttle bus.  Having already concluded that Claimant was on Employer’s premises, actually getting to the exact work area “is a necessary part of employee’s employment.”  Thus, her being on the shuttle bus was required.  The Court noted that whether Claimant was required to drive to work, or whether she was had to take the shuttle bus, was not critical.  Her utilizing the lot, and the bus, was expected by the Employer if Claimant elected to drive to work.

Obviously, as attorneys who represent the injured worker in PA, this decision is encouraging to us.  We commend the Court for looking at this situation in the light of common sense and decency, consistent with the humanitarian purposes of the Act.