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Peters v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Cintas Corporation)

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

July 18, 2019

Jonathan Peters, Petitioner
v.
Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Cintas Corporation), Respondent

          Argued: March 13, 2019

          BEFORE: HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge HONORABLE MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, Judge HONORABLE CHRISTINE FIZZANO CANNON, Judge HONORABLE ELLEN CEISLER, Judge

          OPINION

          ANNE E. COVEY, JUDGE. [1]

         Jonathan Peters (Claimant) petitions this Court for review of the Workers' Compensation (WC) Appeal Board's (Board) November 16, 2017 order affirming the WC Judge's (WCJ) decision dismissing his Claim Petition. The issue before this Court is whether the Board erred in determining that Claimant was not in the course and scope of his employment when his injury occurred.[2] After review, we affirm.

         Cintas Corporation (Employer) employed Claimant as a uniform sales representative. Claimant's home branch was located in Allentown, although Claimant would also work from home as necessary. Claimant's job duties entailed cold calling potential prospects, scheduling appointments, meeting with contacts to present the products, and eventually closing the sale and negotiating the contracts. His workweek included some time in the office on Monday mornings, Tuesdays, and Wednesday mornings to set the appointments, and in the field the remainder of the week.

         On February 27, 2015, a full sales day, Claimant was in the northern portion of his territory which included Pottsville, Orwigsburg, and Tower City. After his last appointment that day he drove to Allentown to attend a celebration with co-workers at the Tilted Kilt. On the way, Claimant passed the exit for his home and continued to drive to the Tilted Kilt. It is disputed how long Claimant stayed at the Tilted Kilt. While driving home, Claimant was involved in a motor vehicle accident from which he sustained multiple injuries.

         On December 29, 2015, Claimant filed the Claim Petition seeking payment of partial disability benefits from February 28 to April 2, 2015 and total disability as of April 3, 2015. Employer filed an Answer denying the material averments. The WCJ held hearings on February 10 and April 1, 2016. On November 1, 2016, the WCJ denied and dismissed the Claim Petition concluding that Claimant failed to meet his burden of proving that he was in the course and scope of employment at the time of his motor vehicle accident. Claimant appealed to the Board. On November 16, 2017, the Board affirmed the WCJ's decision. Claimant appealed to this Court.[3]

         Claimant argues that he was in the course and scope of employment at the time of the accident because he was a traveling employee on his way home from a work-sponsored event in a work van. Employer responds that because Claimant made a clear departure from his employment, Claimant was not in the course and scope of employment, as a matter of law, at the time of the motor vehicle accident. Specifically, Employer contends that the WCJ's findings of fact clearly establish that Claimant's actions were so removed from his employment as to constitute abandonment.

         Initially, "[w]hether an employee is acting within the course of his employment is a legal determination to be made based upon the WCJ's findings of fact." Ace Wire Spring & Form Co. v. Workers' Comp. Appeal Bd. (Walshesky), 93 A.3d 923, 931 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014).

         Further,

[t]his Court has analyzed course of employment cases in two ways, depending on whether the claimant is a traveling or stationary employee. What constitutes 'scope and course of employment' is broader for traveling employees than for stationary employees, and it includes driving to any appointment for the employer. Whether a claimant is a traveling employee is determined on a case by case basis, and the Court must consider whether the claimant's job duties involve travel, whether the claimant works on the employer's premises or whether the claimant has no fixed place of work.

Rana v. Workers' Comp. Appeal Bd. (Asha Corp.), 170 A.3d 1279, 1284 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2017) (citations omitted). When an employee is determined to be a traveling employee, he is entitled to a presumption that he is in the course and scope of employment when he is traveling to or from work. See id. "To rebut this presumption, [an e]mployer ha[s] to establish [employee's] actions at the time of the accident were 'so foreign to and removed from' his usual employment that those actions constituted abandonment of employment." Id. at 1285 (quoting Holler v. Workers' Comp. Appeal Bd. (Tri Wire Eng'g Solutions, Inc.), 104 A.3d 68, 71 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014)). The issue herein is whether Employer rebutted the presumption that as a traveling employee who set out to work in the morning, Claimant's injury occurred while in the course and scope of his employment.

         We begin our analysis with a review of cases involving the traveling employee presumption. In 1966, the Pennsylvania Superior Court decided Maher v. Hallmark Cards, Inc., 218 A.2d 593 (Pa. Super. 1966). In Maher, the decedent, a traveling employee, stopped at a hotel for drinks with co-workers after finishing the employer's business and was in an accident on his way home therefrom. The Maher Court ruled that the traveling employee presumption applied, the employer did not rebut the presumption, and the decedent's spouse was entitled to benefits.[4]

         Thereafter, this Court held in Oakes v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Pennsylvania Electric Co.), 469 A.2d 723 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1984): "[T]he established principal (sic) that one who is employed to travel and who is provided with transportation in order to carry out such duty has a scope of employment that is 'necessarily broader than that of an ordinary employee, and is to be liberally construed to effectuate the purposes of the [WC] Act.[5]'" Oakes, 469 A.2d at 725 (quoting Aluminum Co. of Am. v. Workmen's Comp. Appeal Bd. (Lindsay), 380 A.2d 941 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1977)).

         An examination of the underlying facts in each case reveals the rationale behind the traveling employee presumption. In Maher, the claimant's decedent was working in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and went across the street from the news agency wherein he was assisting other salesmen in setting up a greeting card display, to a hotel for drinks after his work was completed. The accident occurred in Downingtown, on his way home to Philadelphia. Clearly, the decedent had not left his work location of Downingtown at the time of the accident. Similarly, in Oakes, the claimant's decedent had been working in Meadville, Pennsylvania, approximately 13.3 miles from his home. The decedent stopped numerous places after his work was completed. However, all of the places he stopped were in Meadville. The accident happened while the decedent was traveling home from Meadville. Thus, because the decedents in Maher and Oakes were not in the vicinity of their homes when they stopped after the end of their workdays, "[t]he homeward trip was a necessary part of the[ir] business excursion[s]." Oakes, 469 A.2d at 726 (emphasis omitted) (quoting Maher, 218 A.2d at 596). As has been recognized, traveling employees do not have "the option of avoiding" the hazards of traveling homeward. Ball-Foster Glass Container Co. v. Giovanelli, 177 P.3d 692, 697 (Wash. 2008) (emphasis added).

         Indeed, as this Court in Roman v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Department of Environmental Resources), 616 A.2d 128, 130 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992), expounded: "[T]emporary departures from the work routine for the purpose of administering to the comforts of an off-the-premises employee . . . will not interrupt the continuity of the employee's course of employment." Id. at 130-31 (emphasis added) (quoting Port Auth. of Allegheny Cty. v. Workmen's Comp. Appeal Bd. (Stevens), 452 A.2d 902 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1982)).

         In Roman, the claimant worked as an inspector, which required him to travel to various construction sites. After finishing an inspection, the claimant was injured in a motor vehicle accident. The claimant testified that at the time of the accident he was on his way to check in to a hotel in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The employer presented contrary evidence to show that when the accident occurred the claimant was en route to meet his girlfriend. The referee found that comparable hotels were available closer to the construction sites, but the claimant chose to stay in Wilkes-Barre so he could visit his girlfriend. The referee also found that the claimant was not required to check in to the hotel midday, which is when the accident occurred. As a result, the referee concluded the claimant was not within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident, and the Board affirmed. This Court reversed, reaffirming the legal principle that as a traveling employee who was injured after setting out on his employer's business, the claimant was entitled to a presumption that he was within the course and scope of his employment. The Roman Court explained that the claimant was required to stay in a hotel in the vicinity of the construction sites ...


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