State News : Pennsylvania

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By:  Jeffrey D. Snyder, Esquire


            The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reviews the law – a parking lot case.

             In US Airways, Inc., v. WCAB (Bockelman), 612 C.D. 2017, filed February 22, 2018, in an Opinion authored by Judge Brobson, the Court affirmed the granting of a Claim Petition, finding that the Claimant was in the course of employment at the time she was injured by a fall down incident on an airport shuttle bus returning her to one of two employee parking lots after work. 

            The Court reviewed the facts.  The Claimant was employed as a Philadelphia based flight attendant for US Airways, Inc.  In order to get to work, she drove her own vehicle to the airport and parked in one of two designated employee parking lots that were both owned, operated and maintained by the City of Philadelphia/Division of Aviation for the use of all airport employees, not just those employees of US Airways, Inc. 

            In order to park in one of these two lots, employees were required to get a secured identification display area badge issued by the Department of Aviation and paid for by the Employer.  After an employee parks in one of these lots, a shuttle bus transports the employee from the employee parking lot to the airport terminal and the reverse on the return at the end of the workday.  Employer does not own or exercise control over the shuttle buses and did not require its employees to use the airport employee parking lots.  The Employer maintained that it gave its employees no directive whatsoever in terms of how they should commute to work. There is a train from Center City Philadelphia to the airport, with no contentions regarding that alternate means of transportation by either the Claimant or the Employer in this Appeal based on the language in the Opinion.

            The incident in question occurred on January 23, 2015.  The Claimant was returning from a one day and back trip to Miami late in the evening about 9:47 p.m.  She boarded the shuttle bus and attempted to lift her suitcase onto the luggage racks and while doing so stepped in water on the floor causing her right foot to slip out from underneath her.  Her left knee buckled causing her to fall backwards, crushing her left foot under her.  She needed assistance. 

            The Claimant subsequently filed a Claim Petition for injuries to the left foot from this slip and fall incident.  The Answer to the Claim Petition denied that the Claimant was in the scope of employment at the time of the injury. 

            In a Decision circulated April 27, 2016, the Workers’ Compensation Judge granted compensability concluding that the injury occurred on the Employer’s premises, that the Claimant’s presence on the shuttle bus was required by the nature of her employment, and that the injury was caused by the condition of the premises.  The Board affirmed. 

            On Appeal to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, the Employer was arguing that the Claimant was not injured on the Employer’s premises because the Employer did not own, lease or control the shuttle bus and parking lot, and they were not integral to the Employer’s business.  The Employer asserted further error in the conclusion that the Claimant’s presence on the bus was required due to her employment status because Employer never required Claimant to use the shuttle bus. 

            The Commonwealth Court observed that injuries may arise during the course of employment in two distinct situations.  First, the course of employment may be established by showing that the employee is injured on or off the Employer’s premises, while actually engaged in furtherance of the Employer’s business or affairs.  This was not shown in the case. 

            Alternatively, to establish a course of employment, an employee can show that although not actually engaged in the furtherance of the Employer’s business or affairs, the Claimant is on the premises occupied or under the control of the Employer, or upon which the Employer’s business or affairs are being carried on, and is required by the nature of employment to be present on the Employer’s premises, and sustains injuries caused by the condition of the premises or by operation of the Employer’s business or affairs thereon, further citing to WCAB (Slaugenhaupt v. United States Steel Corporation, 376 A.2d 271 273 (Pa. Cmwlth., 1977).  

            The third prong, the condition of the premises, was undisputedly met, so the Court focused on the first two factors, premises and required by the nature of employment to be present on these premises.            

            In terms of whether the Claimant was on the Employer’s premises, noting the Employer did not own, lease, maintain or control the shuttle bus, the Court observed that Section 301(c)(1) of the Workers’ Compensation Act presents the issue as determinative on the establishment of the site of the accident being so connected to Employer’s business as to form an integral part of that business, citing toEpler v. North American Rockwell Corporation. 393 A.2d 1163 (Pa. 1978).  

            The critical factor is not the Employer’s title or control over the area, but rather the fact that the Employer had caused the area to be used by employees in performance of their assigned tasks.  The Commonwealth Court observed that reasonable means of access to the work place is considered an integral part of the Employer’s business and, therefore, part of the Employer’s premises, citing toNew House v. WCAB (Harris Cleaning Services, Inc.), 530 A.2d 545 (Pa. Cmwlth., 1987),appeal denied, 538 A.2d 879 (Pa. 1988).  Property becomes integral to an Employer’s business when the Employer causes employees to be in the area, citing toEpler, supra.  The Court quoted from the Opinion in Interstate United Corp., 424 A.2d 1015 (Pa. Cmwlth., 1981): 

“[T]he record shows that [Employer’s] cafeteria was located in the interior of the …plan, that employees customarily crossed the foot bridge that Claimant was injured on to enter and exit the cafeteria area, and that [Employer] was aware of this fact.  In numerous cases, Pennsylvania Courts have held that a reasonable means of access to the situs of an Employer’s business operation is such an integral part of an Employer’s business has to be encompassed within the definition of “premises” as determined to be used in Section 301(c)(1) of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.” 

            The Court noted with approval the analysis in Fashion Hosiery Shops v. WCAB, 423 A.2d 792 (Pa. Cmwlth., 1980), where a Claimant sustained injury while approaching an entrance to her workplace.  That Employer had three separate points of entry and indicated no preference to which point an employee should utilize.  That Employer did not own, lease or control the walkway upon which that Claimant fell.  The fact that the Employer inFashion Hosiery Shops did not require any particular point of entry to be utilized, was not found to be significant in the course determination of the premises issue there.  The Court observed that in that case ofFashion Hoisery Shops, supra.

“Given the relational nature of the area in question to the Employer’s place of business, it must be concluded that the Claimant was injured on an entranceway that was available and intended for use; and as such, a constituted part of the Employer’s premises, regardless of it not being owned or controlled by the Employer.  Nor does the availability of alternative entrances nullify that conclusion.  Each of the three available and intended ways of ingress to Fashion’s shop was a part of Fashion’s “premises” for purposes of Section 301(c) of the Workers’ Compensation Act.” 

            Turning to the instant case involving Ms. Bockelman, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania observed that Ms. Bockelman used the airport parking lot and shuttle bus to enter and exit the workplace.  She used her vehicle as her means of transportation to work and the airport provided employees who work at the airport, which included Ms. Bockelman, no cost parking in employee parking lots designated by the airport.  Ms. Bockelman rode the shuttle bus in order to get to her workplace.  The Employer, US Airways, knew that as to employees who drove to work, they would need to board the shuttle bus after commuting to the airport and the same for the return trip.  “Accordingly, the shuttle bus is such an integral part of Employer’s business and has to be part of the premises, in addition to being a customary means of ingress and egress, and the WCJ correctly concluded as such.” 

            The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania then turned to the next prong of theSlaugenhaupt test, that is whether the nature of Claimant’s employment required her to be on Employer’s premises where she was injured.  The Employer argued that the Claimant’s presence on the shuttle bus was not required, as Employer gave no directive on where to park and hence did not require the Claimant to board the shuttle bus.  

            The Court noted the case of ICT Group v. WCAB (Churchray-Woytunick), 995 A.2d 927 (Pa. Cmwlth., 2010), where a Claimant who slipped on ice on the Employer’s premises while leaving for her lunch break was found to be in the course of employment, the Court pledged no significance on the fact that the Claimant inICT Group independently decided to leave the building during her lunch break, since the Claimant’s presence was required by the nature of her employment.  

            Injuries that occurred reasonably proximate to work hours are compensable, as justified by the observation that once an employee is on the Employer’s premises, actually getting to or leaving the Employer’s work station is a necessary part of an employee’s employment.  Reasonable time is a concept discussed in the case ofHeverly v. WCAB (Ship N’ Shore), 578 A.2d 575 (Pa. Cmwlth., 1990), where the Claimant returned to work after initially leaving because she wanted to retrieve her eyeglasses. 

            The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania concluded that in this case, the Claimant’s presence on the shuttle bus was a necessary part of her employment, because it was the means by which he traversed between her work station, which was a terminal, and the parking lot designated for airport employees. The Court considered the Claimant’s presence on the shuttle bus “so connected to her employment relationship” that it was required by the nature of that relationship. 

            This Opinion of the Commonwealth Court illustrates the complexity of parking lot cases that can turn on a nuance.  These cases are highly fact sensitive and suggest that exposures can be somewhat mitigated by advance planning regarding directives to employees as to commuting and the lack of such directives.


                                                                       ConnorsO'Dell LLC

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