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PA Workers Compensation – Course and Scope of Employment Case – Wetzel v. WCAB

Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Case Studies

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Walter Wetzel vs. WCAB (Parkway Service Station),
92 A.3rd 130, 2014 WL 2187363 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014) filed May 27, 2014,

In this case, the deceased claimant had attempted to stop a fleeing thief and was struck by the thief’s vehicle and dragged some distance. He suffered traumatic brain injury. The employer and carrier denied benefits, asserting that he was not in the course of his employment and that he had violated a positive work order by carrying a handgun.

Commonwealth Court addressed the handgun issue first, noting that claimant’s co-workers also carried handguns, and there was no proven employer policy or rule against carrying handguns at work. In fact, claimant had used his to shoot a would-be robber years earlier and was not disciplined for that.

Concerning the course of employment issue, the court noted that the WCAB had concluded as a matter of law that the claimant’s duties as a convenience store manager did not include apprehending criminals after they fled and that claimant had abandoned his employment by pursuing the suspect and physically engaging with him. The board felt the claimant’s premeditated, deliberate, extreme and inherently high-risk actions were sufficient to remove him from the course of his employment. However, the court stated that, because the facts as found by the WCJ clearly indicate that claimant was required to be on the premises, was furthering the interests of the employer by being there and was struck by the vehicle while on the premises, he would not be denied workers’ compensation benefits unless the facts supported the legal conclusion that the claimant had abandoned his employment or was engaged in some activity which was wholly foreign to his employment (which conclusions the facts in this case did not support).

The court also focused upon the remedial nature and humanitarian purposes of the act and the liberal construction principle.

The court summed up its holding as follows: “… (Claimant) did not attempt to stop the thief from fleeing to further his own interests; rather the facts show that Claimant was furthering the interests of Employer. When the thief attempted to take money from the cash register (Claimant) was still on the premises…(a co-worker) started screaming and the thief immediately ran out of the store…(Claimant) instantly reacted by running out the store to stop the thief from fleeing and was run over by the thief’s vehicle when the thief refused to stop…this all occurred within a matter of minutes…(Claimant) was not aware that the thief had not actually taken any money from the cash register or that any threat to Employer was alleviated when the thief ran from the store…as such, (Claimant’s) pursuit of the thief was not, as Employer argues, so far removed from his job duties as Employer’s store manager as to constitute abandonment of the course of his employment or…engag(ing) in something wholly foreign thereto (citation omitted)…Accordingly, the Board erred.” Claimant’s injury was indeed compensable in this case.

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, News & Notes, Summer 2014, Vol. 19 / No. 2.

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