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Trigon Holdings, Inc. v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Griffith)

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

August 7, 2013

Trigon Holdings, Inc., Petitioner
v.
Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Griffith), Respondent

Submitted: June 28, 2013

BEFORE HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge

OPINION

ANNE E. COVEY JUDGE

Trigon Holdings, Inc. (Employer) petitions this Court for review of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board's (Board) January 18, 2013 order affirming the Workers' Compensation Judge's (WCJ) grant of Kenneth Griffith's (Claimant) claim petition. The issues for this Court's review are: (1) whether the Board erred by affirming the WCJ's determination that Claimant was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of his injury, and (2) whether the WCJ issued a reasoned decision. We reverse.

Employer's business involves exclusively the finishing of medical or aerospace industry parts. Claimant worked full-time for Employer as a gang leader for approximately 7½ years. Claimant's job was to make sure that Employer's machines were operating properly during his shift. Finding of Fact (FOF) No. 5b. Claimant was required to examine the equipment and troubleshoot or get tooling for the machine operators when necessary. FOF No. 5b. He was not a machine operator. FOF No. 5b.

On May 30, 2008, approximately two hours into the midnight shift and after ensuring that Employer's machines were running smoothly, Claimant told employees in the machine shop he would be in the tool and die room for "a couple of minutes" if they needed him.[1] FOF No. 5d. Within roughly 5 minutes, while polishing a bolt for his child's go-cart with an emery cloth, Claimant's left thumb was drawn into a lathe, resulting in the skin and tissue being removed down to the bone. FOF No. 5f; Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 50a. He was taken to the emergency room and thereafter underwent procedures to rebuild and rehabilitate his thumb. FOF Nos. 5g, 5h. He was unable to perform his time-of-injury job until he was released to work on December 1, 2008. FOF Nos. 3, 10. Employer suspended Claimant for 5 days for performing personal work on company time with company equipment. Notes of Testimony, October 1, 2008, Ex. Employer A; R.R. at 39a, 41a.

On August 28, 2008, Claimant filed a claim petition seeking workers' compensation benefits on the basis that his left thumb was "degloved" in the course of his employment. R.R. at 4a. Employer denied Claimant's averments. Hearings were held before a WCJ on October 1 and November 14, 2008, January 8, April 7, August 25 and October 22, 2009. On March 31, 2010, the WCJ granted the claim petition, awarding Claimant total disability benefits from May 30, 2008 to December 1, 2008, plus interest. The WCJ also awarded litigation costs, attorney's fees, and reimbursement of subrogation liens for medical expenses. Employer appealed, arguing that there was no competent evidence to support the WCJ's finding that Claimant's injury occurred in the course and scope of his employment. On January 18, 2013, the Board affirmed the WCJ's decision. Employer appealed from the Board's order to this Court.[2]

Employer argues that the Board erred by affirming the WCJ's finding that Claimant's injury occurred in the course and scope of his employment when, "without [Employer's] knowledge or consent, " he left his appointed duties and performed unauthorized work of a personal nature. Employer Br. at 12.

Section 301(c)(1) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Act), [3] provides that, in order to be compensable under the Act, an injury must have occurred within the course of the Claimant's employment, and must be causally related thereto. U.S. Airways v. Workers' Comp. Appeal Bd. (Dixon), 764 A.2d 635 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2000).

An injury may be sustained 'in the course of employment' under Section 301(c)(1) of the Act in two distinct situations: (1) where the employee is injured on or off the employer's premises, while actually engaged in furtherance of the employer's business or affairs; or (2) where the employee, although not actually engaged in the furtherance of the employer's business or affairs, (a) is on the premises occupied or under the control of the employer, or upon which the employer's business or affairs are being carried on, (b) is required by the nature of his employment to be present on the employer's premises, and (c) sustains injuries caused by the condition of the premises or by operation of the employer's business or affairs thereon.

Id. at 640 (emphasis added). This Court has held:

The operative phrase 'actually engaged in the furtherance of the business or affairs of the employer, ' which is usually expressed as 'in the course of employment, ' must be given a liberal construction. . . . [D]etermining whether an employee is acting in the course of employment at the time of an injury is a question of law, which must be based on the findings of fact made by the WCJ.

Lewis v. Workers' Comp. Appeal Bd. (Andy Frain Servs., Inc.), 29 A.3d 851, 862 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2011) (citation omitted; emphasis added). Moreover, the Pennsylvania Superior Court declared:

An employe is entitled to compensation for every injury received on the premises of his employer during the hours of employment, regardless of whether he is actually required to be at the particular place where the injury occurred, so long as there is nothing to show that he had abandoned the ...

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