Injury Outside Pennsylvania Can Be Difficult To Have Covered By PA Workers’ Compensation

Injuries which occur within the State of Pennsylvania fall under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act [Act] (unless the employee is excluded for another reason, such as being a Federal or Military employee). However, injuries which take place outside PA may still be covered under the Act if certain requirements are met.

Under Section 305.2(a), injuries taking place outside PA may still be covered by the Act if either, 1) the injured worker had employment “principally localized” in Pennsylvania; 2) the injured worker was hired in PA and his or her work was not “principally localized” in any State; 3) the injured worker was hired in PA for work “principally localized” in a State for which he or she cannot receive workers’ compensation benefits; or 4) the injured worker was hired in PA for employment outside the United States or Canada.

This issue was recently addressed by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Watt v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Boyd Brothers Transportation). Here, Mr. Watt was a truck driver for a company based in AL. He was hired in OH, and an agreement was signed by Mr. Watt, acknowledging that any work injury he suffered would be “exclusively governed by the workers’ compensation laws of the State of Alabama. Further, [Claimant’s] agrees with [Employer] that, for purposes of worker’s compensation, [Claimant’s] employment is principally localized within the state of Alabama and that the company’s principle [sic] place of business is Clayton, Alabama.”
In performing his job, he traveled across several states. The injury took place in NJ, when Mr. Watt hurt his shoulder securing a load. Workers’ compensation payments began under AL workers’ compensation law.

Following the litigation of a Claim Petition, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) decided against the injured worker and denied the Petition. Specifically, the WCJ found that the injury happened in NJ, that the hiring was in OH and that the written agreement said that Mr. Watt was hired in AL and employment was principally localized in AL. Based on these findings, the WCJ decided that Pennsylvania lacked jurisdiction. The decision of the WCJ was appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB), who affirmed.

Upon further appeal, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania also affirmed. First, the Court examined what is meant by “principally localized.” Based on existing case law, the Court said, the injured worker “must show he worked from Pennsylvania “as a rule, not as the exception.'” Though the WCJ found as fact that Mr. Watt was in PA more than any other State, the Court noted that he was in other states far more than he was in PA. Simply being in this State more than any other single State is not relevant. It was still the minority of time, in general, that Mr. Watt was in PA, so his employment was not “principally localized” in Pennsylvania.

The Court then went on to address the written agreement, finding that employment was “principally localized” in AL, which Mr. Watt correctly argued was not borne out by the facts. The Court pointed to Section 305.2(d)(5) of the Act, which provides that:

An employee whose duties require him to travel regularly in the service of his employer in this and one or more other states may, by written agreement with his employer, provide that his employment is principally localized in this or another state, and, unless such other state refuses jurisdiction, such agreement shall be given effect under this act.”

Since the Act specifically allows the use of an agreement such as this, and AL workers’ compensation benefits were being paid, the Court found the law needed to be followed. The WCJ correctly determined that PA lacks jurisdiction here, said the Court.

We have no issue with the Court, since it (as it should) merely interpreted and followed the law as created by the legislature, we have concern with this aspect of the law in general. Why should an employer be permitted to create artificial jurisdiction and force it onto an employee? Shouldn’t the facts dictate where the employment takes place? Or, at least, shouldn’t this be limited to a close call (the fact appear uncontradicted that Mr. Watt rarely was in AL at all).

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