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Workers Compensation News Fall 2015

PA Workers' Compensation Cases of Note

By John W. Zatkos, Jr. 

Workers' Compensation Act covers injury that occurred during an employer sponsored recreational trip

In Milliren v. North Versailles Township, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) found that the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) had erred when he ruled the injured worker, who fell during an employer sponsored day at the zoo, was not in the course of employment and therefore not eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits.

Mr. Milliren was a semi-retired, part-time recreation director for the township. He planned the trip to the zoo and chartered the bus for the attendees. While at the zoo, Mr. Milleren, who is legally blind, fell down some stairs, breaking both wrists and his left elbow and injuring his knee. He acknowledged that he took advantage of the free admission to the zoo and that he did not submit a time card for that day, but that was due to his being hospitalized for three months. The WCJ found that Mr. Milliren’s attendance was entirely recreational and denied benefits. Upon appeal, the WCAB had to determine if the facts were supported by evidence and if the WCJ had erred in his decision.

Although the injured worker had attended for free, he testified that he planned the event and his duties included attending the event, answering any questions and addressing any problems that arose during the outing. He established that he was furthering the employer’s business while attending the trip. The WCAB cited Scher v. WCAB which established “where an injury occurs while the employee is actually furthering the employer’s business or affairs, the injury is compensable regardless of whether it occurs on or off the employer’s premises.”

What does this mean? If an injury occurs while a worker is in the course and scope of employment and is furthering the business of the employer, the worker is eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits, even if he or she is off-site. 

Normal pain and discomfort from a work injury or amputation do not constitute a separate injury

In Cavanaugh v. The City of Pittsburgh, the WCAB affirmed the decision of the WCJ regarding specific loss benefits. Mr. Cavanaugh was a firefighter. He got his foot caught in a ladder which resulted in the amputation of his big toe and was granted 52 weeks of compensation. The injured worker appealed, claiming he suffered disability to his foot separate and apart from the loss of his big toe. His doctor opined that he continued to have pain and sensitivity related to the amputation but did not put forth any evidence that another disability had occurred. The employer’s doctor opined specifically that there was no disability from a separate and distinct injury – all pain was related to the big toe.

Based on the opinions of both doctors, the WCAB did not find sufficient evidence that a separate and distinct injury had occurred and the WCJ was correct to only award specific loss benefits.

What does this mean? Pain, annoyance, inconvenience or anything normally resulting from the permanent injury is not a new disability and will not entitle an injured worker to additional Workers’ Compensation benefits. 

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