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Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules on Course and Scope of Employment in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation

In O’Rourke vs. WCAB (Gartland) (10/27/2015), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court published an opinion addressing the “course and scope” of employment prong of a Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Case. The case presents an absolutely horrible set of facts. In this case, a mother was paid an hourly wage by a state-funded program called “Accessibilities” under the Department of Public Welfare. This program is designed to provide attendant care for individuals that suffer significant health issues. The employment arrangement was guided by a consumer model of service delivery. The program essentially made the 33-year-old son the employer and the mother the employee. Under the terms of this program, the mother was approved to be paid for 64 hours of care each week for taking care of her 33 year old son in her home. The hours were maintained on a timesheet through a computer program. The employer in this case received the funding for the 64 hours of care but did not qualify to receive 24-hour, seven-day-a-week care.

While the mother was sleeping, the son entered his mother’s bedroom, jumped on top of her, stabbing and cutting her several times with a butcher’s knife. Miraculously, the mother survived. She ultimately filed a claim petition for Pennsylvania workers compensation benefits, alleging that the injuries were suffered in the course and scope of her employment as an attendant. The worker’s compensation judge granted the claim, finding that the employment required the mother to be on her son’s premises at the time that she sustained her injuries. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board reversed, finding that the Claimant was not injured in the course and scope of her employment because she was not furthering the employer’s business, nor was she required to be in the residence at the time of the attack. The Commonwealth Court reversed, finding that the Claimant was “practically required” to live on the premises by the nature or her employment. After all, this was the Claimant’s residence.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted a petition for allowance of appeal filed on behalf of the employer to address the issue of whether the Claimant’s injury was compensable under the Act. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s decision and held that the injury did not occur within the course and scope of the Claimant’s employment. The Court relied heavily on the fact that the Claimant had departed from her normal work duties and was engaged in “a purely personal activity” when she was attacked while sleeping in her bedroom. The Court noted that the Claimant was not required to sleep on the property due to the nature of her employment, even though this was her house. In addition, the Claimant’s employment contract as an attendant care aid did not require the Claimant to work late-night shifts, work 24 hours a day, or even be on call for the employer’s needs. In the end, the fact that the Claimant was not required to sleep in the residence to work and was not on the clock when the injury occurred proved dispositive to the Court.

If you have questions about how to handle your Pennsylvania workers’ compensation claim please call our office at 717-238-1657 to discuss your case with an experienced Pennsylvania Workers Compensation attorney.

Ira H. Weinstock, P.C. is located in Harrisburg, PA and serves clients in and around Southeast Pennsylvania. Contact our experienced Harrisburg attorneys today, we can travel if necessary.

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