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Aviation v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Colquitt)

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

March 7, 2017

Starr Aviation, Petitioner
Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Colquitt), Respondent

          Submitted: October 7, 2016



          PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge.

         Starr Aviation (Employer) petitions for review of the March 30, 2016 decision of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Board), affirming the order of a workers' compensation judge (WCJ) that granted the claim petition filed by Modesty Colquitt (Claimant). We affirm.

         Claimant worked for Employer as a "ramp agent lead" at Pittsburgh International Airport. (WCJ's Finding of Fact at No. 1.) Her job duties consisted of driving a tug with a cart (a vehicle used to transport luggage bags), unloading and reloading baggage on to airplanes, and dropping bags off at a belt so that passengers could retrieve them. Claimant performed most of her duties at the Airside Terminal, apparently where airplanes depart, but sometimes had to travel to the Landside Terminal, where travelers check in, to deliver bags to an area described as the matrix. Id. at Nos. 1-2.

         On September 2, 2014, Claimant, who was twenty-one years old at the time, arrived at work to begin her 2:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift. Claimant had started her menstrual cycle after she left home and realized that she had forgotten her wallet when she arrived at work. Claimant called her mother around 2:30 p.m. and requested that she bring feminine products and money to Claimant's work. At approximately 8:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Claimant drove a tug from the Airside Terminal to the Landside Terminal to meet her mother. Claimant's supervisor had given her permission to do so. Claimant's mother brought feminine hygiene products, lunch money, TV dinners, and cigarettes and parked her car near the Landside Terminal. While Claimant was driving the tug to meet her mother, it flipped and trapped her left leg. An ambulance transported Claimant to the hospital where her left leg was amputated in the area above the ankle and below the knee. Id. at Nos. 5-7.

         In September of 2014, Claimant filed a claim petition alleging that she suffered injuries while in the course and scope of her employment with Employer. Employer issued a notice of compensation denial stating, in part, that Claimant's injury was not within the course of her employment. The WCJ convened a hearing.

         Claimant testified to the facts recited above. In opposition, Employer presented the testimony of Lyn Brett, Claimant's co-worker. Brett stated that, on the day of the accident, she saw Claimant in the break room around 6:00 p.m. and Claimant said that she had cramps and was hungry. Brett testified that she offered Claimant some food and money, but Claimant said that her mother was bringing her food and money. Brett added that she believed that the restroom and break room contained feminine products. Id. at No. 11.

         Employer also presented the testimony of another co-worker, Dan Gordon, who stated that he was working as a "wingman" with Claimant and that she operated the tug "entirely too fast" on the date of the accident. Id. at No. 12. Finally, Employer submitted the testimony of Daniel Butler, a ramp lead for a different crew. Butler stated that, during a break, Claimant offered him crackers. Id. at No. 13.

         In a decision dated January 7, 2015, the WCJ found Claimant's testimony credible and convincing. The WCJ found that Claimant forgot her wallet, started her menstrual cycle on September 2, 2014, while at work, needed feminine products and money, and called her mother to deliver such products and money to her at the airport. Id. at No. 14(c)-(e). Notably, the WCJ found that "[C]laimant's job performance would be affected by her menstrual cycle and would be adversely affected if she did not have feminine products to address the situation." Id. at No. 14(d). The WCJ further found that Claimant asked for and received permission from her supervisor to take a tug to meet her mother at the Landside Terminal and that Claimant's injury occurred on Employer's premises. Id. at No. 14(f), (h).

         Based on these findings, the WCJ determined that Claimant's temporary departure from performing work to administer to her personal needs did not take her out of the course of her employment. The WCJ found that Claimant's departure from work was temporary, Claimant had permission to engage in this departure, and the departure was for the purpose of attending to personal needs and comfort that would allow her to continue her shift with Employer. Therefore, the WCJ concluded, Claimant remained in the course of her employment pursuant to the "personal comfort doctrine." Id. at No. 14(g)-(i).

         In rendering her decision, the WCJ made the following assessment of the testimony of Employer's witnesses: "While considered, I do not find [Employer's] witnesses testimony to be relevant to the issues in this matter." Id. at No. 15. More specifically, the WCJ found that Brett's testimony regarding the availability of feminine products for purchase in the rest and break rooms was "inconsequential;" that Gordon's testimony about Claimant using the tug "too fast" was "immaterial;" and that Butler's testimony that Claimant offered him snacks was also "immaterial." Id. at No. 15.

         Having made these credibility determinations and factual findings, the WCJ granted Claimant's claim petition, concluding that she had been totally disabled ...

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