Can an employee collect workers’ compensation benefits for a leg injury he suffered while getting into the cab of his work truck after clocking out for the day?
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania upheld a workers’ compensation judge’s denial of the claim, finding that the injury didn’t occur within the course of employment.
He felt pain, weakness in leg throughout his shift
On Nov. 12, 2018, Robert Lewis was working in the equipment yard of Lehigh Asphalt Paving & Construction Company moving equipment to prepare for winter.
Throughout the day, Lewis felt pain and weakness in his left calf and ankle, almost as if it was “slowly giving out.”
At the end of his shift, Lewis locked up the shop area, went to the time clock and punched out for the day. After punching out, he returned to the work truck he was driving and attempted to quickly get into the cab of the vehicle. As he pushed off with his left foot to step up into the cab, Lewis felt a popping sensation in his lower leg, which was later diagnosed as a tear in his Achilles tendon.
Lewis managed to get into the truck and drive home, where the pain continued to increase. The pain increased so much that his wife took him to the emergency room for treatment. When he returned home from the hospital, Lewis called his foreman to explain how he was injured.
Lewis filed a workers’ compensation claim for the injury, which Lehigh contested.
Judge finds injury didn’t occur in course of employment
In front of a workers’ compensation judge, Lewis testified that his injury wasn’t the result of tripping over anything in the parking lot or hitting his leg against the company truck. He also testified that he wasn’t performing a work task when the injury happened and that he didn’t tell anyone about the pain he’d been experiencing in his leg throughout that day.
The judge denied the claim on Oct. 11, 2019. However, the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Board remanded the case back to the judge because he failed to make a finding regarding whether Lewis met his burden of establishing that his injury occurred in the course and scope of his employment.
On remand, the judge determined that Lewis’s injury wasn’t caused by a condition of his employer’s premises and that he wasn’t doing anything to benefit his employer when the injury occurred. The judge again denied the claim and the board affirmed the decision on Dec. 3, 2021.
‘He wasn’t engaged in furtherance of employer’s business’
Lewis appealed the decision with the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, arguing that the board erred in affirming the judge’s decision that his injury didn’t occur in the course of his employment.
Like the judge, the court found that there was sufficient evidence proving that Lewis’s injury wasn’t work-related.
The court said that Lewis “was not actually engaged in furtherance of (Lehigh’s) business or affairs; he had punched out and was entering his vehicle … to go home.”
Further, Lewis admitted that nothing about Lehigh’s premises or property contributed to his injury. There was nothing about the ground or the truck that led to him injuring his leg.
That meant the injury wasn’t work-related and therefore wasn’t compensable.