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What Do You Think: May Worker who Punched Out Get Benefits for Tearing Tendon Getting in Truck? 

30 Oct, 2023 Chris Parker

question mark 2492009 640

Tamaqua, PA (–In Pennsylvania, a worker who is not engaging in work activities but is on his employer’s premises and is required by the nature of his employment to be there may be entitled to worker’s compensation benefits. 

But as one case indicates, the worker will succeed only if he shows that a condition of the premises or the operation of the business caused his injury.  

In an illustrative case, an employee was working in a construction company’s equipment yard, moving equipment for winter. He felt pain and weakness in his calf and ankle throughout the day. It was like the ankle was going to give out, he said. He finished his shift at 4:30 p.m., locked up the shop area, and punched out. 

The employee then returned to the work truck he was driving and hurriedly attempted to get into the cab. As he pushed off with his left foot to step up into the cab of the truck, he felt a popping sensation in his lower leg. He tore his Achilles tendon.  

The Workers’ Compensation Board denied his claim for medical benefits, reasoning that the injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment. 

On appeal, the court explained that in Pennsylvania, a workplace injury may be compensable in two situations: 

(1) First situation: The employee is injured, on or off the employer's premises, while actually engaged in the furtherance of the employer's business or affairs. 

(2) Second situation (known as the Slaugenhaupt test): The employee was not engaged in his work at the time of injury but was: 

--> On a premises under the control of the employer;  
--> Required by the nature of his employment to be on such premises; and
--> Sustained the injury due to a condition of the premises or operation of the business.  

Was the construction worker’s Achilles tendon tear compensable? 
A. No. He wasn’t injured by anything on the premises or operation of the business and wasn’t working at the time. 
B. Yes. He was engaged in an activity related to work when he tore his tendon. 

If you chose A you sided with the court in Lewis v. Lehigh Asphalt Paving & Construction Co., No. 1445 C.D. 202 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 10/19/23), which found the injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment. 

First, the court noted that the employee was not actually engaged in the furtherance of his employer’s business at the time. He had already punched out and was entering the vehicle to go home. Accordingly, if he wanted benefits, the employee had to establish a claim under the second option, as the Slaugenhaupt test, satisfying each of the three elements. 

In finding that the employee failed establish the third component of the Slaugenhaupt test, the court pointed to the worker’s own testimony that the injury resulted from his act of stepping up into the vehicle independent of contact with the ground or the vehicle. In other words, the court state, his act of stepping into the vehicle was not a condition of the employer’s premises and thus did not contribute to his injury.

Workers' Comp 101: The Slaugenhaupt test gets its name from a 1977 case, Workmen's Compensation Appeals Board v. U.S. Steel Corp., 376 A.2d 271 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1977), in which the injured worker was the deceased Dale Slaugenhaupt. In the case, the worker had a seizure while operating his automobile in his employer's parking lot before he was scheduled to start work. As a result of the seizure, the worker lost control of the car, which then struck two parked vehicles, proceeded 200 feet to and through a chain link fence and over a walkway, and after traveling an additional 189 feet struck and came to rest against a concrete abutment. The court held that the death was compensable and arose out of his employment, since it wasn't epilepsy that caused his death but the conditions he encountered in the employer's parking lot.

“Not unlike being struck by lightning, the location of the occurrence of Claimant's injury on Employer's premises was coincidental, not related to the condition of the premises,” the court wrote. 

The court affirmed the board’s determination that the injury was not compensable.

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