Rendering Emergency Aid to Injured Person does not Remove Employee from Course and Scope of Employment
Pipeline Systems, Inc. v. WCAB(Pounds), No. 1577 C.D. 2014, filed July 7, 2015
Factual and Procedural History
Employer obtained a contract with the Borough to install an addition to the borough plant, including installation of pipelines and manholes. The site included a concrete pit with a ladder attached to the side. Prior to the injury date, claimant had performed work in that pit for the employer. In July 2010, claimant and 3 co-workers were installing new pipeline about 30 feet from the pit, when they heard an employee of the borough plant call for help. The borough employee had fallen into the pit and was laying at the bottom. Claimant, the borough plant manager, and an inspector with an engineering company on the site climbed down into the pit to help the borough plant employee, only to discover that the gentleman had died.
When claimant tried to climb out of the pit, he lost consciousness and fell back down to the bottom of the pit. There was some methane gas in the pit which had caused the loss of consciousness. Claimant had testified that he had not been warned about any gas in the pit, nor had he been warned not to go into the pit when he did. A TNCP was initially issued, but then employer issued a Notice Stopping Temporary Compensation and a Notice of Denial. Claimant filed a Claim Petition alleging injuries to his left leg, knee, foot, ribs, back, and lungs. Employer denied that claimant was within the course and scope of his employment at the time of injury, and the petition was bifurcated to determine this issue first. The WCJ granted the claim petition, finding claimant within the course and scope of his employment and describing the nature of the injury. The Board affirmed.
Commonwealth Court Decision
The Employer appealed on the basis that claimant was not within the course and scope of his employment at the time of his injury. The Court cited to the amendments to the Act, Section 601(a)(10), which is referred to as the “Good Samaritan” provision of the Act. Section 601(a)(10) provides that an employee who, while in the course and scope of his employment, goes to the aid of a person and suffers injury or death as a direct result of preventing a crime or rendering emergency care, first aid or rescue at the scene of an emergency, is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Employer argued that this section was meant to only encompass a limited class of emergency personnel, not all employees. Employer also argued that even if it applied to all employees, the section did not provide that an employee remains within the course of employment just because an emergency arises and the employee renders aid. Employer argued that claimant was not acting in furtherance of employer’s business, and the property was not under the care and control of the employer’s business.
The Court noted the key questions were whether claimant fit within the defined class (such as was he a volunteer firefighter), and whether the injury occurred curing the performance of a duty related to the claimant’s status as a member of that class (such as was he actually fighting a fire at that time). The Court held that Section 601(a)(10) did not expand the definition of employee to include a class of individuals defined by its terms, and provided that the employee remains an employee under the act if injured while performing specifically identified acts. An employee who goes to the aid of another, as here, cannot be said to have abandoned the course of employment or engaged in something wholly foreign thereto since assisting in the rescue and first aid of another is specifically included in the statute. The Court pointed out that the plain language of this section requires that the individual be functioning as an employee at the time the emergency arises and the employee goes to the aid of another. As such, volunteer responders are not covered just because they are volunteer emergency responders, but because the injury occurred while performing their duties as a volunteer emergency responder.
Furthermore, the Court noted the relationship between the employee who renders aid and the person who is injured is irrelevant. Responding to a call for help by rendering such aid is a human compulsion similar to attending to personal comforts. Here, the claimant went to render aid when a call for help came from approximately 30 feet away. He was injured while trying to climb out of the pit, thereby making his injury the result of attempting to render emergency care. Since claimant had actually been performing work for his employer when he heard the call for help, he was within the course and scope of his employment. Therefore, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the Board.