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    Wetzel v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Parkway Service Station)- Does An Injured Worker Abandon His Employment When Injured On Employer’s Premises While Trying To Stop A Criminal From Leaving The Premises After An Attempted Robbery?

    No. The Commonwealth Court, in a well reasoned Opinion dated May 27, 2014, (No. 1693 C.D. 2013)  has ruled that the Decedent in this case did not abandon his employment when trying to stop an individual from leaving the premises after an attempted robbery when he was run over by the criminal. The Court reversed the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) below who ruled that the Decedent abandoned his employment and was not furthering the business affairs of Parkway Service Station (Employer) when he was injured while attempting to stop a thief  from leaving the premises after the attempted robbery of the Employer’s store.

    Decedent was a management employee at the store. He filed a Claim Petition alleging that as a result of being struck by the vehicle, he sustained work-related severe traumatic brain injury, which rendered him comatose and permanently disabled and incapacitated. (he is now deceased) Employer denied the allegations claiming it wasn’t a work-related injury and that Decedent’s injuries were caused by violating a positive work order (by possessing a gun on Employer’s premises). After significant amounts of testimony on the issue, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) found there was no violation of a positive work order. The WCJ also found that decedent was furthering the business affairs of the Employer.

    On appeal, the WCAB found that the WCJ erroneously concluded that Decedent was furthering Employer’s business affairs when he was injured, reasoning that the duties of a convenience store manager do not include the pursuit and apprehension of criminal suspects.

    The Commonwealth Court, in its Opinion, first reminded us that the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act is remedial in nature and is intended to benefit the worker– and thus must be liberally construed  to effectuate its humanitarian objectives. With this in mind, it is still the Claimant who bears the burden of proving all elements necessary to support an award.

    In this case, the Claimant had to prove that the injury occurred in the course and scope of employment. The Court noted that the operative phrase of “actually engaged in the furtherance of the business or affairs of the employer” which is usually expressed as ‘in course of employment’ must similarly be given a liberal construction. The WCJ accepted testimony of employee witnesses that there were many robbery attempts and attacks over the years at the store. Indeed, the Decedent had actually used a firearm to stop an attempted robbery of the store in 2007. While Decedent may have made an error in judgement in approaching the criminal, the WCJ had accepted that his job duties as Employer’s night manager, included securing the safety of his fellow employees and customers.

    Importantly, the Commonwealth Court pointed out, the facts demonstrated that Decedent did not attempt to stop the thief from fleeing to further his own interest; instead, they showed he was furthering the interests of the Employer as the thief attempted to take money from the cash register as decedent instantly reacted to a screaming employee by running out of the store to stop the thief from fleeing and was run over when the thief refused to stop.

    This is a great case for injured workers as the Commonwealth Court properly used the liberal construction mandate of the Act to analyze the facts of this case resulting in the correct outcome. It was Decedent’s job to protect the store and employees, and there was a history of violence and criminal activity at the store previously. He did not abandon his employment when trying to apprehend the criminal as apprehension of criminals was not something “foreign” to his job duties.

    For more information about Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Law, contact Attorney Michael W. Cardamone 7 days a week at (215) 206-9068 or email myphillyworkerscomp@gmail.com

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