One of the more disputed areas of workers’ compensation in PA, and therefore the source of many appellate decisions, is whether an employee is injured in the scope and course of his or her employment. We have addressed scope and course of employment many times on this blog. Recently, another of these cases came before the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
In Wilgro Services, Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Mentusky), the employee (Claimant) was an HVAC mechanic, working on the roof of a building. To get to the roof, and back down, he had been using a ladder roofers had been using. Unfortunately, one day he was the last one on the job, and the roofers had taken away the ladder. After considering his options, Claimant elected to jump from the lowest part of the roof, perhaps 16 to 20 feet from the ground. In so doing, Claimant suffered bilateral calcaneus fractures, left medial malleolus fracture, and lumbar spinal fractures at L-4 and L-5.
The workers’ compensation insurance carrier denied the claim, feeling this case was very similar to that of Pennsylvania State University v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Smith), which was previously discussed on this blog. In that case, the employee decided to jump a flight of stairs on a whim and ended up with multiple fractures in both legs.
After a Claim Petition was litigated, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) in the Mentusky case granted the petition. Finding that, while the decision of Claimant to jump was perhaps not smart, and definitely ill-advised, he did not intentionally injure himself. He did have to leave the roof to complete his work day. The WCJ found, overall, that the injury was suffered within the scope and course of the employment. This decision was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB).
Upon further appeal, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania also affirmed. The Court had no difficulty distinguishing this case from Smith. Initially, it was noted that the injured worker in Mentusky was a “travelling” employee, having no fixed place of work – scope and course of employment is more broad for such category. Indeed, to rebut the scope and course with a travelling employee, “ . . . the employer bears the burden of proving that the claimant’s actions were so foreign to and removed from his or her usual employment as to constitute an abandonment thereof.” Since the employee in Mentusky did have to leave the roof, and did not just jump on a “whim,” as was the case with Smith, the situations are very different. Taking the entirety of the situation into account, the Court concluded:
“While Claimant’s decision to jump was not advisable, may not have been a smart move, and may have been misguided, we cannot say that it was so unreasonable as to make the action so foreign to and removed from Claimant’s job as to constitute an abandonment of that job. Rather, here, Claimant was a traveling employee who had reasonably used the ladder of other trades people at that job site to enter and exit the working area, and who unexpectedly found his means of egress removed when his job was over.”