Workers’ Compensation; Scope of Employment

US Airways, Inc. v. WCAB (Bockelman), 179 A.3d 1177 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2018), allocatur granted Oct. 3, 2018, appeal docket 35 WAP 2018

This case arises from an order entered by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Board) affirming the order of a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ), granting the claim petition of Betty Bockelman (Claimant) based upon the finding that Claimant was injured in the course and scope of her employment as required by Section 301(c)(1) of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Commonwealth Court summarized the relevant facts:

Claimant worked for [US Airways, Inc (Employer)] as a Philadelphia-based flight attendant. In order to get to work, Claimant drove her own vehicle to the airport and parked in one of the two designated employee parking lots. Both parking lots are owned, operated, and maintained by the City of Philadelphia/Division of Aviation (DOA), for the use of all airport employees, not just those of Employer. All airport employees are required to get a secured identification display area (SIDA) badge in order to park in these lots. The DOA issues SIDA badges. Employer pays a one-time administrative fee at the time of an employee’s hire to process the background check for the employee to receive a SIDA badge. After an employee parks, a shuttle bus transports the employee from the employee parking lot to the airport terminal (and vice versa). Employer does not own or exercise control over the shuttle buses. Further, Employer does not require employees to use the airport employee parking lots. Employer gives its employees no directive whatsoever in terms of how they should commute to work.

On January 23, 2015, Claimant parked her car in the employee parking lot and rode the employee shuttle bus to the terminal to report for work. Employer scheduled Claimant to work a one-day trip from Philadelphia to Miami and back. Claimant’s return flight from Miami landed in Philadelphia at approximately 9:47 p.m., and, after a brief discussion with a co-worker, Claimant departed the terminal to the employee shuttle bus stop. After Claimant boarded the shuttle bus, she attempted to lift her suitcase onto the luggage racks. While trying to place her luggage on the racks, Claimant stepped in water on the floor, causing her right foot to slide out from underneath her. Claimant’s left knee buckled, causing her to fall backwards, crushing her left foot under her. Claimant felt something rip in her left foot. Other passengers had to assist Claimant from the floor to a seat.

Slip Op., at 1-2 (internal citations omitted).

On June 2, 2015, Claimant filed a worker’s compensation claim petition, alleging that she sustained work-related injuries to her left foot from her January 23, 2015 slip and fall. Employer filed a timely answer, denying that Claimant was within the scope of her employment at the time of her injury. The WCJ held a hearing on October 28, 2015 where both parties presented evidence.

The WCJ concluded that Claimant sustained injuries in the course and scope of her employment. Specifically, the WCJ concluded: (1) the injury occurred on Employer’s premises; (2) Claimant’s presence on the shuttle bus was required by the nature of her employment; and (3) the injury was caused by the condition of the premises (Slaugenhaupt test). Employer appealed to the Board, which affirmed.

Employer appealed, arguing that Claimant cannot establish that she was injured on Employer’s premises because (1) Employer never owned, leased, maintained, or controlled the shuttle bus, and (2) the shuttle bus does not comprise an integral part of Employer’s business because Employer did not cause Claimant to be there.

Commonwealth Court disagreed with Employer’s contention that the shuttle bus could not be part of its premises because it did not own, lease, maintain, or control the shuttle bus, as control is not dispositive of whether the shuttle bus was part of Employer’s premises. Rather, the court explained, property becomes integral to an employer’s business when the employer causes employees to be in the area, including means of access customarily used by employees for ingress and egress.

On this issue, Commonwealth Court found its holdings in Fashion Hosiery Shops v. Workmen’s Compensation Appeal Board, 423 A.2d 792 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1980) and Interstate United Corporation v. Workmen’s Compensation Appeal Board, 424 A.2d 1015 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1981) were instructive. In Fashion Hosiery Shops, a claimant sustained injuries after she fell while approaching an entrance to her workplace. The employer in that case had three separate points of entry and indicated no preference to claimant as to which entry point to utilize. The employer did not own, lease, or control the walkway upon which the claimant fell. Commonwealth Court held the walkway comprised the employer’s premises, and “found no significance in the fact that the employer did not require claimant to use a specific entry to the workplace.” Slip Op. at 7.  Likewise, in Interstate United Corporation, the claimant worked as a cafeteria worker inside of a plant. The claimant sustained injuries after falling on the steps of a footbridge that connected the plant to a public street. While the plant owner, not the employer, owned and controlled the footbridge, Commonwealth Court concluded that the footbridge comprised the employer’s premises for the purposes of the Act because it was a reasonable means of access to employer’s business. Commonwealth Court found the instant case analogous to Fashion Hosiery Shops and Interstate United Corporation because Claimant used the shuttle bus as a customary means of ingress and egress similar to the walkway and footbridge in those cases. The court further reasoned:

Claimant used her vehicle as her means of transportation to work, and the airport provided employees who work at the airport, including Claimant, with parking at no cost in employee parking lots designated by the airport. (Id. at 73a.) In order to get from the parking lot to the terminal, Claimant rode the shuttle bus provided by the airport to transport employees to and from its parking lots and terminal. As part of doing business with the airport, Employer understood that the airport would transport Employer’s employees who drove to work. Thus, Employer also understood that, in order to arrive at their work area to start their shift, employees who drive to work invariably board the shuttle bus after their commute to the airport. Similarly, Employer also understood that, in order to leave their work area at the end of their shift, employees who drive to work invariably board the shuttle bus to return to their vehicle. Accordingly, the shuttle bus is such an integral part of Employer’s business as to be part of the premises, in addition to being a customary means of ingress and egress, and the WCJ correctly concluded as such.

Commonwealth Court therefore concluded that Claimant met the first prong of the Slaugenhaupt test—that the injury occurred on Employer’s premises

The Supreme Court granted allocatur on the following issue:

Is the Commonwealth Court’s order contrary to long-standing case law from the Commonwealth Court holding that an employee is not in the course and scope of employment while traveling between a parking lot and the workplace unless the employer mandates how an employee commutes to work and/or where the employee must park his/her vehicle?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.