Worker Hurt Jumping Down Stairs Not Entitled to Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, a worker who gets injured while doing his or her job is entitled to PA workers’ comp benefits when the injury “arises in the course of his (or her) employment and related thereto.” (Section 301(c)(1) of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act).

What does that mean? Generally speaking, an injury happens in the “course of employment” when the worker is “actually engaged in furtherance of the employer’s business or affairs,” whether the injury takes place on or off the employer’s premises. An injury can also be in the “course of employment” even when the worker is not engaged in furtherance of the employer’s business, if certain conditions are met.

As you can imagine, this determination varies from case to case, highly depending on the facts in each situation. Recently, the Commonwealth Court of PA addressed this area in Pennsylvania State University v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Smith). Here, the claimant, on a half-hour lunch break, intentionally jumped down a flight of stairs, suffering significant injuries to both legs (distal right tibia fracture and talar dome fractures of the right ankle and a fracture of the distal tibia and the talus of the left ankle).

After litigation of the matter, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the Claim Petition, awarding PA workers’ comp benefits. On appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) affirmed, finding that the act of jumping down the stairs was not “an activity so foreign to his regular work duties as to remove him from the scope of employment.”

The Commonwealth Court of PA, however, reversed the decision of the WCJ. Despite the fact the injured worker was staying on the premises of employer for his lunch break, the Court found that he could not be said to be furthering employer’s business or affairs. The act was not an accident or inadvertent slip, but a conscious decision. The Court found such an action “wholly foreign to his employment.” As such, the actions of the injured worker, said the Court, removed him from the course and scope of his employment. The Claim Petition, found the Court, must be denied.

Once again, this case serves as a lesson for how workers’ comp cases in PA can hinge on the precise facts in each case. This highlights the importance of selecting an experienced Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney.