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Marazas v. Compensation Appeal Board (Vitas Healthcare Corp.)

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

August 11, 2014

Paul Marazas, Petitioner
Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Vitas Healthcare Corporation), Respondent

Submitted: June 20, 2014.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appealed from No. A11-1310. State Agency: Workers' Compensation Appeal Board.

George D. Walker, Jr., Philadelphia, for petitioner.

Janet H. Blaum, Scanton, for respondent.



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Paul Marazas (Claimant) petitions for review of an order of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Board) that reversed the decision of a Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) to grant Claimant's claim petition. After a remand, the WCJ awarded benefits, finding Claimant sustained his injury within the course and scope of his employment under Section 301(c) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Act).[1] The Board reversed, concluding Claimant's injury only related to work by way of his termination of the employment relationship. Claimant asserts judicial estoppel precludes denial of his employee status based on a prior related civil suit. Further, Claimant argues the Board erred as a matter of law in concluding he was not acting in the scope of his employment at the time of his injury. Based on the WCJ's findings and credibility determinations, we reverse the Board and reinstate the WCJ's order after remand.

I. Background

On the date of his injury, Claimant was employed by Vitas Healthcare Corporation (Employer) as a driver technician. He delivered and picked up medical equipment, including medical furniture, in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Following a weekend when he was on-call, Claimant reported for work at Employer's premises to receive his daily itinerary. Upon arrival, Claimant reviewed his list of assigned stops, in three states, which would take him until midnight to complete. Then, Claimant went to the office to advise his manager, Rita Carroll (Manager), that he was tired after the on-call weekend. There, he requested she remove some stops from his itinerary. Manager refused.

After stating he could not continue under those conditions, Claimant turned in his keys and phone to Manager, indicating he quit. Manager informed Claimant that he needed to remove his personal belongings from the truck, and she escorted Claimant to do so pursuant to Employer's policy. After removing items from the truck as directed, Claimant tripped over a pallet jack while walking to the warehouse on Employer's premises. He fell on his left side, sustaining injuries. Manager observed Claimant's fall. Subsequently, Manager walked Claimant to his vehicle, at which time Claimant left Employer's premises.

Days later, Claimant called Manager, advising her of his injury and requesting referral to a panel physician. Manager informed him such physicians were limited to active employees.

Initially, in 2007, Claimant filed a civil suit in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, Civil No. 07-13411, seeking damages for his injury as a business invitee. However, Claimant withdrew that action after Employer pled that Claimant was in the scope of employment at the time of his injury. Employer thus defended the case based on the exclusiveness of Claimant's remedy under the Act.

After withdrawing his civil suit, Claimant filed a claim petition, alleging work-related injuries to his left ankle and left knee, and upper, middle and lower back pain, sustained during the scope of his employment. The WCJ held a series of hearings where Claimant and Employer's witness, Manager, testified. Finding Claimant and his physicians credible,[2] the WCJ awarded benefits for a closed period,

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from November 7, 2005 through July 9, 2008.

Specifically, the WCJ found that Manager witnessed Claimant's fall, after he tripped on equipment owned by Employer on Employer's premises. The WCJ credited Claimant's testimony as to the circumstances surrounding his fall. The WCJ discredited Employer's witnesses, finding them " unpersuasive," other than to the extent that they corroborated Claimant's fall on Employer's premises. WCJ Decision, 5/28/09, Finding of Fact (F.F.) No. 13.

Employer appealed, arguing that Claimant terminated his employment prior to sustaining the injury, so that his injury was not covered by the Act. The Board vacated and remanded the WCJ's order, directing the WCJ to assess whether Claimant was within the scope of employment at the time of his injury.

The WCJ held a brief hearing on remand in order to admit certain documents into evidence. Over Employer's objection, the WCJ admitted the complaint Claimant filed in the Court of Common Pleas, Employer's answer and new matter, attested to by Manager, as well as the praecipe to withdraw. See WCJ Remand Hr'g, Notes of Testimony (N.T.), 10/12/10, at 7. Importantly, in the pleadings, Employer admitted Claimant was its employee, such that the Act provided an exclusive remedy.

On remand, the WCJ found that Claimant quit his employment prior to his injury. Nevertheless, she found Claimant was within the scope of his employment when he fell on Employer's premises. Significantly, the WCJ found Claimant was furthering Employer's interests at the time of injury because " [he] was injured where his Employer had directed him to go and perform a requested task." WCJ Remand Op., 7/28/11, F.F. No. 3. She emphasized Claimant was " directed to return to his truck" and was " performing the required acts" when injured. Id.

In her remand opinion, the WCJ adopted her earlier decision in full, and supplemented it with specific findings regarding scope of employment. Again, the WCJ found a work-related injury and awarded workers' compensation benefits. Employer appealed.

Applying this Court's then recent decision in Little v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (B& L Ford/Chevrolet),23 A.3d 637 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2011), the Board again reversed the WCJ. The Board reasoned Claimant was not within the scope of employment at the time of his injury because he quit before he fell. His injury occurred as a consequence of the final act of ...

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