Workers’ Comp Fatal Claim Benefits Granted While Employee at Lunch

Ordinarily, to be compensable as a work injury in Pennsylvania, an injury must take place while the injured worker is in the “scope and course” of his or her employment. Interestingly, the phrase “scope and course” is not even mentioned in the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, though the concept, derived from case law, has great importance.

An injured worker with a fixed place of employment (“stationary employee”) is generally covered for an injury away from the fixed place of employment only if he or she is actually furthering the affairs of the employer. In contrast, a travelling employee (one with no fixed place of employment), has a greater latitude of when he or she is within the scope of employment.

Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision in Pennsylvania State University v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Rabin, Deceased), finding that the injured worker, a stationary employee, was still within the scope and course of his work when he was injured at the salad bar at a nearby restaurant.

The injured worker, Mr. Rabin, was a professor at Penn State University. As part of his duties, he worked with students, helping them prepare dissertations. Given his class schedule, and the schedules of the doctorial students, Mr. Rabin would sometimes meet the students at local restaurants to review their dissertations.

One day, Mr. Rabin was doing just that, when he tripped and fell at the salad bar. He was discussing a dissertation with a student just prior to getting up to go to the salad bar, and the student anticipated that they would be continuing the discussions as they ate. In the fall, Mr. Rabin suffered a fracture/dislocation to his left shoulder and a left humeral shaft fracture. Worse, after having surgery for the injury, Mr. Rabin developed an infection which ultimately ended his life.

A Fatal Claim Petition was filed by Mr. Rabin’s widow. The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the Petition, finding that Mr. Rabin was indeed furthering the interests of the employer in meeting with the student at the restaurant. Thus, he was within the scope and course of his employment at the time of the injury. This decision was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB).

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania also affirmed the granting of the Fatal Claim Petition. Though the meeting took place off site, the Court found the injury still took place within the scope and course of the employment:

On these facts, Decedent’s trip to the salad bar cannot logically be construed as anything more than an inconsequential departure from his work as a professor, in which he was essentially engaged at the time. Therefore, we reject Employer’s contention that Decedent was not in the course and scope of his employment when he fell and sustained his shoulder injuries on October 20, 2006.”