Quasi Expansion of Employers’ Premises by Pennsylvania Supreme Court
On November 20, 2019, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a claimant was in the course and scope of her employment even though her injury did not occur on property owed or operated by her employer but on property that was "an integral part of the employer's business." This case opens the door for an expansive definition of what is the employer’s premises.
The claimant in US Airways, Inc. v. WCAB (Bockelman), 221 A.3d 171 (Pa. 2019) was a Philadelphia-based flight attendant. On her date of injury, the claimant had a one-day trip from Philadelphia to Miami. She drove her personal vehicle to Philadelphia International Airport and parked in one of two employee parking lots at the airport. The lot was owned and operated by the City of Philadelphia Division of Aviation, not her employer, US Airways.
After returning from her flight back from Miami, the claimant boarded a shuttle bus to take her back to her vehicle. While lifting her suitcase on the shuttle bus, she slipped and fell in a puddle, injuring her left foot.
During the underlying litigation, the claimant testified she was a member of the American Flight Attendants (AFA). As part of the AFA, she was covered under a collective bargaining agreement, which included a provision that US Airways was responsible for providing either free or reimbursed parking for the flight attendants at their domicile airports. She further testified that the injury occurred while using a shuttle bus en route to the parking lot.
In opposition, US Airways offered evidence that they did not directly pay for the claimant or other Philadelphia flight attendants to park at the Philadelphia International Airport. Instead, the City of Philadelphia owned and operated airport-employee parking lots, including the one where the claimant was injured. The airport-employee lots were free to all airport and airline employees.
The workers’ compensation judge granted the claim petition, finding that the claimant was in course of her employment at the time of the fall. The judge applied the three-prong test, which states that, if an employee is not actively furthering her employer’s business or affairs when she suffers an injury, the injury arises in the course of employment only if: (1) the injury occurs on the employer’s premises; (2) the employee’s presence on the employer’s premises is required by the nature of her employment; and (3) the employee’s injury is caused by the condition of the premises or by the operation of the employer’s business thereon. 77 P.S.411(1).
The judge found that the claimant satisfied all three elements. First, the claimant was injured while using a designated shuttle bus to an employee parking lot. Second, the claimant boarded the bus after her flight landed in Philadelphia. Third, the claimant’s injury was caused by the wet floor of the shuttle bus.
US Airways appealed. It argued that the first two elements were not met: the claimant’s injury occurred on property that was neither owed nor operated by US Airways and the claimant’s presence was not required on the shuttle bus since US Airways did not direct its employees to park at any particular lot.
The judge’s decision was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board and later by the Commonwealth Court. In rejecting both arguments from US Airways, the court explained that an employee was considered on the employer’s premises, even if not on the premises proper but when using an area significantly connected to the employer’s premises, including a reasonable avenue of ingress to and egress from the workplace. The court also noted that, even though the claimant was not required to park in the specific lot, she was there while exiting the property within a reasonable time after her shift.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Count accepted the case to consider one point: whether an employee who voluntarily uses an optional parking lot remains in the course of her employment while traveling between that area and her workplace. The court concluded that she did remain in the course of employment as the parking area was an integral part to the employer’s premises.
In its decision, the court discussed what constitutes "the employer's premises" for the purpose of the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act. The employer's premises is not determined just by legal ownership, title or control, but whether the employer caused the area to be used by employees in performance of the work tasks. By this reasoning, parking lots, public streets, and common areas of multi-unit office buildings may be considered the employer's premise if they are a reasonable, even if only one of several, way of entering or exiting the work site.
Injuries occurring off-premises cannot be automatically denied as outside the course and scope of employment. Rather, the location needs to be examined to determine if it is integral to the employer's business.
*Shannon is a shareholder in our Harrisburg, Pennsylvania office. She can be reached at (717) 651-3507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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