What is the Personal Comfort Doctrine In Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation?
In the recent case of Starr Aviation v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Colquitt), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court addressed the “Personal Comfort Doctrine” in relation to an argument by the employer that an employee was not in the “course and scope of employment” during her injury and as a result should be denied workers’ compensation benefits. The relevant facts were that the injured worker worked at the Pittsburgh International Airport transporting luggage by driving a motorized vehicle called a “tug.” On the morning of her injury, the Claimant began her menstrual cycle and did not have any feminine hygiene products or money to purchase the same. She therefore contacted her mother and asked her to bring feminine hygiene products and money to work. While on the way to meet her mother, the injured worker flipped the tug she was driving causing her leg to be trapped. Her injury required an amputation of her lower leg.
The employer denied the injured workers injury on the basis that the injured worker was not within the course and scope of her employment. The injured worker prevailed before the Workers’ Compensation Judge as well as the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board and the employer appealed to the Commonwealth Court. The employer argued that “an activity that does not further the affairs of the employer will take the employee out of the course and scope of employment and serve as a basis for denial of the claim by the WCJ.” Consequently by leaving her duties to meet her mother to pick up money and hygiene products, the employer argued that the injured worker was not in the course and scope of employment and should be denied benefits.
The Commonwealth Court disagreed. The Court relied on the “Personal Comfort Doctrine” and recognized that:
The personal comfort doctrine, common to all workers’ compensation laws, holds that the employee whether on the premises or off, does not stray from the course of employment for a momentary departure from active work to attend to some ‘personal comfort’ such as using the restroom, fixing one’s hair, or changing contact lenses or make-up.
The Court found as significant the testimony of the injured worker that going to meet her mother would have taken less than 10 minutes; that her job performance would have been adversely affected if she did not have hygiene products; and that she received express permission from the employer to go and meet her mother.
Course and scope cases are very common in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation and if you have been denied Worker’s Compensation Benefits due to a course and scope defense by an employer you should speak to an experienced Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation attorney as soon as possible to determine your options.