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A worker must suffer an injury in the course of employment to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits under § 301(c)(1) of the Workers’ Compensation Act, 77 P.S. § 411(1).
The terms “injury” and “personal injury” under the Act are interpreted to mean an injury to an employee arising in the course of employment. The term “injury arising in the course of his employment,” as used in the Act, includes all injuries sustained while the employee is actually engaged in the furtherance of the business or affairs of the employer, whether on the employer’s premises or elsewhere.
However, an “injury arising in the course of his employment” does not include injuries sustained while an employee is operating a motor vehicle provided by the employer if the employee is not otherwise in the course of employment at the time of injury. Pennsylvania courts have decided many cases involving traveling employees, and this very issue.
Last summer, Pennsylvania courts decided yet another case, Peters v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd., No. 1835 C.D. 2017 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. Jul. 18, 2019) involving an injured traveling employee, who argued that his injury, incurred while traveling to attend a celebration with co-workers, was in the scope of employment and entitled him to workers compensation benefits.
What constitutes ‘scope and course of employment’ is broader for traveling employees than for stationary employees, and it includes driving to any appointment for the employer. Whether a claimant is a traveling employee is determined on a case by case basis, and the Court considers whether job duties involve travel, whether the work occurs on the employer’s premises or whether the claimant has no fixed workplace.
Employees who are determined to be traveling employees are entitled to a presumption that they are in the course and scope of employment when traveling to or from work. Pennsylvania courts have recognized that traveling employees “do not have the option of avoiding” the perils and risks of traveling homeward. When traveling employees depart temporarily from a work routine for the purpose of relief and enjoying amenities, the continuity of acting in the employee’s course of employment remains interrupted.
Contrary to cases where benefits were allowed, Peters left his work vicinity, passed his home, attended happy hour at a tavern, and was involved in an accident on his way home from happy hour. In successful cases, claimants had not left their work locations within certain municipal areas when their injuries occurred.
In Peters, the claimant was in the vicinity of his home, and then made a conscious choice to pass his home to attend the happy hour, after which the accident occurred. These were hazards that Peters, the employee, had the option of avoiding, and as a result, the hazards of his travel were unrelated to the hazards of his employment.
Under the circumstances, Peters’ travel from the bar where he enjoyed happy hour to his home was not in the course and scope of his employment. Accordingly, Peters was not in the course and scope of his employment at the time of his motor vehicle accident.
The lesson is here is that in prior cases involving traveling employees whose claims were allowed, the injured workers were not in the vicinity of their homes when they stopped after the end of the workday. Their trip home was a remaining and necessary part of their business excursions. However, in Peters, the injured worker had the option of avoiding his eventual trip home, having already been in its vicinity with the option of going there. Thus, his consequent trip home was no longer related to any business excursion.
If you believe that you have a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, call for a free consultation with a qualified workers’ compensation attorney at Powel Law. We can ensure that all filing deadlines and notice requirements under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act are met in a workers’ compensation case. Contact Powell Law at (570) 961-0777. The consultation is FREE!