Should Good Samaritan Worker be Denied Workers’ Comp?

Was a worker acting within the course and scope of employment when he tried to rescue a co-worker who had fallen into a concrete pit of methane gas at a work site? worker1

A lower court in Pennsylvania ruled yes, but now the company has appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case.

The case raises important questions about whether those who step in to help others in danger on the job will themselves be protected under workers’ compensation laws if they are hurt.

According to reports of the case, claimant worked for a piping company, installing pipelines and manholes at a sanitation plant. It was July 2010 and claimant was installing a new pipeline at the sewage treatment facility, just six months on-the-job.

Suddenly, he heard someone shout, “Man down!” near the concrete pit, approximately 30 feet away from where he’d been working. He rushed over and saw another worker – and employee of the plant – lying at the bottom of the pit.

Claimant, along with the plant manager and an inspector climbed down the ladder to the bottom of the pit. It was at that time they realized the worker was deceased. They all climbed back up the ladder. But as claimant was nearing the top, he lost was overcome by methane gas. He lose consciousness, and fell some 20 feet to the bottom.

He suffered severe injuries to his head, lungs, back, ribs, leg, knee and foot.

He subsequently filed a workers’ compensation claim for benefits through his own employer. However, the company denied the claim, arguing claimant was not acting in the course and scope of employment.

Nearly two years later, a workers’ compensation judge handed down an interlocutory order, finding claimant was in fact acting within the course and scope of employment and therefore deserved to be compensated for his injuries.

Employer appealed to the state workers’ compensation appeal board, which affirmed the judge’s order. That was in the summer of 2014.

The employer appealed the decision to the Commonwealth Court, which affirmed the board’s order and finding the claimant is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The ruling noted that in order for an injury to be deemed in the course and scope of employment, it has to happen in the furtherance of the business or affairs of the employer. Plus, the state’s recently-amended workers’ compensation act expressly indicates that benefits are to be provided to a person who, in the course and scope of employment, goes to the aid of another person and as a result suffers injury or death.

Because at the time of the incident, claimant was engaged in work that was furthering the business or affairs of his employer, the court ruled, he was acting in the course and scope of employment.

However, the company again appealed. It is now six years approaching six years since this incident occurred. The state supreme court has agreed it will hear the case.

Employer insists that the rescue was not part of this employee’s work-related duties. His contract required him to help enlarge the facility – not serve as a rescue worker.

The supreme court will be asked to decide whether the law in that state unambiguously provides that a worker must be acting in the course and scope of employment at the time he or she provides aid to the injured, and not just at the time the emergency arose.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Should worker injured in rescue bid be denied workers’ comp? Supreme Court will decide, March 10, 2016, By Matt Miller, PennLive.com

More Blog Entries:

Report: Workplace Homicides Claim 551 Lives Annually, March 14, 2016, Anderson Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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