Law Weekly 2003 ……..

Workers’ Compensation

Pair of Rulings Address Off-Site Worker Injuries

Commonwealth Court interprets ‘coming and going’

Of the Law Weekly

In a victory and defeat for employees injured off the work site, the Commonwealth Court has issued two key rulings interpreting what constitutes activities performed in the course of employment in workers’ compensation litigation.

First in Sekulski v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Indy Associates), PICS Case No. 03-0927 (Pa. Commw. June 18, 2003) Leadbetter, J. (9 pages), the court denied benefits to claimant David Sekulski after he was attacked by unknown assailants while he was on call with his company.  Indy Associates, but not actively engaged in a work-related activity.

The court said an employee on call is not operating in the course of employment unless he is engaged in work-related activities a the time of injury.  “To hold otherwise,” the three-judge  panel said, “would impose liability on an employer for the safety of its employees 24 hours a day regardless of whether the employee is actually furthering its business or affairs when injured.

The second case examined the “coming and going”  rule in the context of a week end business meeting.

In Village Auto Body v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Eggert), PICS Case No. 03-0953 (Pa Commw June 19, 2003) Leavitt, J. (10 pages), the court affirmed the award of death benefits to the family of a man killed in a motorcycle accident on his way home from a weekend business meeting with his employer , who was also his father.

The company, Village Auto Body had argued that the decedent , David G Eggert, was engaged in an extended social visit, rather than a business meeting with his father, Peter Eggert and several other family members.  But the court determined that despite the social  aspect of the visit, the meeting was initiated to talk business.  As such, it constituted an exception to the coming and going rule, as David Eggert was on a special mission for the employer at the time of the accident.

Even as decedent left the house, he and (Richard) Eggert discussed business, the three-judge panel wrote “Because the nature of the visit remained oriented to business, we conclude that decedent dad not deviate from the special mission. “

The court, however denied the claims of David Eggert’s wife, Linda Eggert, for medical and Psychological expenses.  On that issue, the court found that Section 307 of the Workers’ Compensation Act,  while providing employee’s families with wage loss benefits and reimbursement for burial expenses, is silent on expenses with regard to survivor medical expenses. Thus, the court held, medical and psychological expenses incurred by the deceased’s family, are not reimbursable.

Patrick R Vitullo of Clemens & Vitullo in Plymouth Meeting – counsel for Linda Eggert, the wife of David Eggert – said the ruling was fair and on point, providing employees and employers with a clearer understanding of the coming and going rule.

Specifically, Vitullo said, the case makes an important distinction between situations in which an incidental business discussion might take place, such as at an office party, and situations in which a meeting is called specifically for business purposes.

“Here the specific mission was clear on the last business date of the week before the weekend of his death.” Vitullo said. “It fell clearly within the parameters of the special meeting exception.

“This was not a case where there was an incidental discussion of business but rather there was a business purpose to the meeting that was already set forth between employer and employee.  (The court’s ruling) does clarify that issue because it can be a very ambiguous or difficult issue when you try to prove a special mission case.  This gives it a little cohesion in the case law”

Joel  I. Herzfield of Rawle & Henderson in Philadelphia, counsel for Village Auto Body, was unavailable for comment at press time.

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