As we have noted on several occasions, our firm represents a clerk who worked at a PA Liquor Store, operated by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). The store, which had no guard on duty (whether armed or not), was robbed and a handgun was pointed at our client’s head. As a result, our client suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The PLCB denied workers’ compensation benefits to our client. Oh, the PLCB did not dispute the robbery took place. Nor did the PLCB deny that our client was disabled from work as a result of the PTSD (the medical expert retained by the PLCB agreed that our client could no longer perform the duties required of a clerk at that store). No, the sole basis of the denial was that an armed robbery of a PLCB store was not “abnormal.” As we have discussed in previous blog entries, a psychological injury, such as PTSD, requires abnormal working conditions.
When we litigated the Claim Petition before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ), we were successful and the Claim was granted. The WCJ found that all of the training materials used by the PLCB said that armed robberies were “infrequent” and “unlikely.” The fact that the manager of the PLCB store was not even aware of the “high alert” process was found by the WCJ to further show armed robbery at this store was “abnormal.” Finally, the WCJ noted that the PLCB did not feel that a guard, even unarmed, was necessary. Finding that this armed robbery was abnormal, the WCJ granted the Claim Petition.
On appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) reversed. The simple fact that armed robbery was incorporated into the training process meant that such an event was foreseeable. And, the WCAB concluded, if it is “foreseeable,” it cannot be “abnormal.” (Since almost anything could be potentially or theoretically foreseen, this argument could completely eliminate psychological injuries in Pennsylvania). The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania agreed and affirmed the decision of the WCAB.
Outraged, we filed a Petition for Allowance of Appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. After all, the WCJ made specific findings which supported that the armed robbery in this case was an “abnormal working condition” and the Courts are fond of noting that WCJs are the final arbiters with regard to findings of fact. Further, under the theory of the WCAB and Commonwealth Court, a mention in training makes an event normal, regardless of how often it actually happens in practice (meaning the Titanic hitting the iceberg, the tsunami hitting Japan, and the school shootings in CT were all normal events).
We are deeply saddened to report that our Petition for Allowance of Appeal has been denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. What it appears we can take from this decision is that the findings made by a WCJ are actually not the final word, that the term “abnormal working condition” is to be read very strictly in PA, and that you better be armed if you are crazy enough to ever set foot in a PLCB store.