Philadelphia Housing Authority Patrol Officer Denied Workers’ Compensation Benefits When Shot, Because He Failed to Follow Proper Police Procedure

In PA, an injured employee is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits only when the injury takes place while the employee is in the scope and course of his or her employment. Often, this is something obvious, as when the employee is actually injured while on the employer’s premises, performing the usual and customary duties of his or her job. There are times, though, when the injured worker is either not on the employer’s premises, or not engaged in the job duties, at the time of the accident. These situations can be dependent on the precise facts in each case.

Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania dealt with this issue in Graves v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Philadelphia Housing Authority), decided by the Court on October 23, 2009. In this case, the Claimant, Mr. Graves, was a Philadelphia Housing Authority patrol officer. He was shot while off-duty, confronting an armed man outside a tavern in South Philadelphia. The claim was denied by the workers’ compensation insurance carrier, who said Claimant was not in the scope and course of his employment at the time of the shooting.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) found the employer’s witness, the Assistant Police Chief of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, more credible than Claimant, and denied the Claim Petition. The employer witness had completed a report of his investigation of the incident and testified from this report. Specifically, the employer witness testified that Claimant failed to follow proper police procedure, and was not acting as a police officer when he was shot. Claimant had objected to the use of this report, on the basis of hearsay (an out-of-court statement, used to prove the truth of the matter asserted).

In its decision, the Court found that the testimony of the employer witness was not hearsay. The witness was not testifying from the report (which was arguably hearsay), but instead was giving his opinions based on the testimony of Claimant as to what took place. As a result, the Court affirmed the decision of the WCJ, and the WCAB, in denying the Claim Petition.

Actually, to my review, and that of the dissent, authored by Judge McCloskey, whether the testimony of the employer witness was hearsay or not does not resolve the issue. The dissent pointed out that by making this case turn on whether Claimant followed “appropriate police response” injects a negligence aspect to a workers’ compensation case. Since the PA workers’ comp system is specifically designed to be a no-fault scheme, raising the issue of whether proper procedure was followed sets a dangerous precedent. The dissent suggests, and I agree, that the matter should have been remanded to the WCJ to consider “the factual question of whether claimant, in acting on the belief that he was authorized to make arrests while off-duty, took action with the intent to accomplish an arrest of the person who shot him.”