One frequently litigated part of PA workers’ compensation law is whether an injured worker is within the “scope and course” of his or her employment at the time of the injury. Often, this question is dealing with a situation where an employee is injured just before or after his or her work day. Since these cases are very limited by the exact facts, we like to see how the courts address each and every instance. Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision on this issue, though it is “unreported.”
We have previously discussed that not all Pennsylvania appellate cases, including ones that address PA workers’ compensation issues, are created equal. Only “reported” appellate cases can be used as precedent. However, “unreported” cases can still be cited by the parties, as persuasive, though such decisions are not binding on a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ). For these reasons, we obviously prefer to use reported cases, but we never ignore the unreported ones.
The recent case is Lombardi v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (UPMC Health Plan, Inc.). Here, the injured work arrived for her shift about 30 minutes early. Her work takes place in an office building, not owned by her employer. The injured worker went to the food court on the ground floor, intending to purchase breakfast to take to her cubicle. While doing so, she tripped and fell, fracturing her right forearm and wrist.
The case was “bifurcated,” meaning the parties agreed to first litigate whether the injured worker was in the scope and course of her work, before dealing with the question of her disability. After hearing testimony, the WCJ found that she was not in the scope and course of her work at the time of her injury, and denied the Claim Petition. This was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB).
Upon further appeal, however, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed. The analysis began with whether Claimant could be seen as actually being within the scope and course of her job, but the Court agreed with the WCJ that she was not. This was before her shift and getting breakfast was “wholly for her own convenience.” This, however, did not end the analysis.
According to the Court, the injured worker here was entitled to Pennsylvania workers’ compensation benefits, “if she can demonstrate that she was injured while on Employer’s premises, that her presence was required by the nature of her employment, and that she sustained injuries due to a condition of the premises or Employer’s operation of the business.” Importantly, the Court noted that ownership of the building was irrelevant to whether the building would be considered as the Employer’s premises. Instead, for these purposes, an Employer’s premises “includes ‘a reasonable means of ingress to or egress from the workplace.’”
The Court determined that the injured worker had to traverse the lobby to get to the work area. This meant she qualified for the first prong; the lobby area was a reasonable means to reach the work place. Since the injured worker here arrived only 30 minutes prior to her shift, she also was under the second prong of the test. Her arriving for her job in a timely fashion advances the employer’s business. Lastly, the undisputed testimony of the injured worker was that she tripped and fell on an unknown object. This satisfies the final prong of the test. As such, the Court found that the injured worker here was to be considered within the “scope and course” of her job, and therefore the case was remanded (sent back to) the WCJ, to decide the issue of disability.
What we see from the Court in this matter further reinforces how fact-specific these before and after work injuries can be. This is further proof that every injured worker should be represented by an attorney who is Certified as a Specialist in Workers’ Compensation Law, as with both Dina Brilliant and Glenn Neiman.