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Williams v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board

July 29, 2010

JOHN D. WILLIAMS, PETITIONER
v.
WORKERS' COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (POHL TRANSPORTATION), RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Senior Judge Flaherty

Submitted: June 25, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE JIM FLAHERTY, Senior Judge.

OPINION

John D. Williams (Claimant) petitions for review from an order of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Board) that reversed the decision of a Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) that granted a Claim Petition filed against POHL Transportation (Employer) as well as a Claim Petition for Benefits from the Uninsured Employer Guaranty Fund and Uninsured Employer. We reverse the order of the Board and reinstate the order of the WCJ granting Claimant's Petitions.

Claimant filed a Claim Petition against Employer alleging he sustained an injury to his right leg in the course and scope of his employment on June 1, 2007. Claimant subsequently filed a Penalty Petition alleging Employer violated the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act (Act) Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended, 77 P.S. §§ 1 - 1041.4, 2501-2708. Claimant alternatively filed a Claim Petition for Benefits from the Uninsured Employer Guaranty Fund and Uninsured Employer. Timely answers were filed by both Employer and the Uninsured Employer Guaranty Fund (Fund) denying Claimant's allegations. All Petitions were consolidated. The parties agreed that the issue of jurisdiction should be decided first.

Claimant, a truck driver, resides in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Claimant submitted a log showing his miles driven for Employer from July 12, 2006 through June 1, 2007. According to Claimant, he drove approximately 111,000 total miles for Employer before sustaining his work-related injury. About 42,000 miles were driven within Pennsylvania. Claimant agreed he logged nearly 35,000 miles in Ohio. The remaining miles were allocated over various states. Claimant stated that he had the opportunity to start and stop some of his trips at his home.

Claimant explained that in seeking employment, he contacted Employer about a position and spoke to a recruiter over the phone. He elaborated that following a background check, he was invited to Versailles, Ohio. A driver for Employer picked him up at his home and drove him to Ohio. Claimant was required to submit to orientation as well as a road test, physical, and a drug test. Claimant was hired by Employer. Claimant agreed that he was injured on June 1, 2007 and that his injury occurred in Vermont. He agreed that he received workers' compensation benefits in Ohio. He has since ceased receiving wage loss benefits under the laws of Ohio.

Employer presented the testimony of Brian Pohl, its general manager, who explained that a potential employee must undergo a road test, submit to a physical, and agree to drug testing before he can be hired. That was the purpose behind bringing Claimant to Versailles, Ohio. Claimant successfully passed all tests and was hired. Claimant did not receive pay for time at orientation. Once hired, he was paid by the mile. Mr. Pohl stated that dispatching takes place in Ohio. Employer does not maintain any drop areas in Pennsylvania, although it has clients with drop areas within the Commonwealth. Employer does not operate any facilities anywhere other than its main office in Ohio.

David Pohl, Vice President of Finance, also testified on behalf of Employer. He agreed Employer has no place of business in Pennsylvania and maintains no drop areas within the Commonwealth.

By an interlocutory order issued April 11, 2008, the WCJ found Claimant's employment was "principally localized" in Pennsylvania inasmuch as Claimant is domiciled in Pennsylvania and a substantial part of his work was conducted within the Commonwealth. Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 18a. In concluding that a substantial part of Claimant's work was conducted within Pennsylvania, the WCJ noted that Claimant was permitted to begin and end trips at his home in Williamsport, that trip logs showed that over one-third of the miles traveled by Claimant in the course and scope of employment were within Pennsylvania, and that although he would receive assignments from dispatch located in Ohio, he did not regularly work at or from an Ohio terminal.

On November 17, 2008, the WCJ issued a final decision based on a stipulation of facts. The WCJ granted Claimant's Claim Petition filed against Employer without waiver of the right to appeal the issue of jurisdiction. He awarded total disability benefits with certain credits given for benefits paid under the Ohio claim. The WCJ specified that Claimant's work-related medical bills are currently being paid under the Ohio claim. The WCJ determined that Employer shall assume responsibility for Claimant's work-related medical bills in the event that there is a change in status in the Ohio claim. He marked the Penalty Petition filed against Employer withdrawn. The WCJ also granted the Petition filed against the Fund. In the event that Employer defaults on its obligation, the WCJ concluded the Fund was secondarily liable for payment of benefits in Pennsylvania. The WCJ incorporated by reference the contents of his April 2008 Interlocutory Order.

On appeal, the Board reversed the WCJ's determination that jurisdiction lies within the Commonwealth. The Board found that Employer was located in Ohio, that Claimant was hired at an Ohio location, and that he received his assignments from Ohio. Although the Board agreed Claimant traveled throughout the state, it found Claimant did not "primarily work in Pennsylvania." R.R. at 44a. This appeal followed.*fn1

Claimant argues on appeal that the Board erred in reversing the WCJ's determination that subject matter jurisdiction over Claimant's work injury properly lies within the Commonwealth. According to Claimant, his employment was "principally localized" within Pennsylvania as that term is defined in the Act. He posits that he is domiciled in Pennsylvania and spent a "substantial" part of his working time furthering Employer's business within the Commonwealth. Claimant asserts that the Board misapplied statutory authority as well as case law in finding to the contrary.*fn2

Jurisdiction can be invoked for out-of-state injuries through the extraterritorial provisions established in Section 305.2 of the Act, added by Section 9 of the Act of December 5, 1974, P.L. 782, 77 ...


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