An employer called a special safety stand-down meeting. While driving to work to attend the meeting, an employee was injured in a car crash. Should he get workers’ comp benefits?
Joseph Simko filed for workers’ comp after being injured in a car crash while commuting to United States Steel Corp. – Edgar Thomson Works in Pennsylvania for a safety meeting. Simko suffered a brain injury as a result.
US Steel holds two types of safety meetings: regular monthly ones, and stand-down meetings (SDMs). The monthly meetings are held at the same time each month, and attendance is mandatory.
SDMs are held when serious incidents or fatalities occur, and are infrequent. US Steel decided to schedule SDMs for the week of Sept. 11, 2011. The head of the department Simko worked for incorporated the SDM into the regularly scheduled monthly safety meeting on Sept. 13.
US Steel denied Simko’s workers’ comp claim, saying he wasn’t in the scope and course of work because he was commuting at the time of the crash. Simko took his case to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB).
A workers’ comp judge (WCJ) concluded Simko was in the course and scope of employment when he was injured. The WCJ based the decision on the “special mission” exception to the coming and going rule. The WCJ also found the “special circumstances” exception applied because Simko was “furthering the business of the employer” by commuting to attend the special safety meeting.
US Steel appealed to the full WCAB. The full commission decided the WCJ erred in concluding Simko was in the course and scope of his employment. Simko appealed that decision to Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court.
Simko argued the WCJ had it right – he was on a special mission for his employer and attending the SDM was a special circumstance.
However, the Commonwealth Court noted that previous decisions had found that when meeting attendance is part of an employee’s regular work duties, traveling to or from such a meeting isn’t a special mission. The court said Simko also failed to show this was a special circumstance:
“Although attendance at the meetings further Employer’s safety goal, it is still part of Claimant’s (Simko’s) regular work duties. Therefore, the special circumstances exception does not apply.”
The court affirmed the WCAB’s decision that Simko should not receive workers’ comp benefits.
So, what qualifies as a “special mission?” Here’s an example: An employee has already traveled to work on a given day. His employer asks him to go to another location and pick up some work supplies. Suffering an injury on the way to or from picking up those supplies could qualify as a special mission. It could also be a “special circumstance” because the employee was “furthering the business of the employer” by picking up the supplies.
What do you think about this case? Let us know in the comments.
(Joseph Simko v. United States Steel Corporation – Edgar Thomson Works, Commonwealth Court of PA, No. 829 C.D. 2014, 10/17/14)