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A deliveryman who took a break from his duties to jump and grab the rim of a basketball hoop, resulting in severe brain injuries, is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court panel has ruled. In affirming the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) in The Baby’s Room v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, the judges held that claimant Ryan Stairs’ injuries had been the result of an innocent departure from the course of his employment and concluded that the “intervals of leisure” doctrine applies in the case. “Because an interval of leisure would certainly include a short cessation from work duties,” Judge Dan Pellegrini wrote, “we would allow that definition to include claimant’s actions of … jumping up to touch the rim of a basketball hoop, and consider those actions as an inconsequential departure from delivering furniture for employer.” Pellegrini was joined by Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt and Senior Judge Joseph F. McCloskey. A 25-year-old native of Boyertown, Pa., Stairs was on leave from college and working as a furniture deliveryman for The Baby’s Room at the time of his November 2000 accident, according to his attorney, Levi Wolf of Wolf Baldwin & Associates in Pottstown, Pa. Stairs has been in in-patient rehabilitation since leaving the hospital and has only recently begun to attempt part-time employment at a fast-food restaurant, Wolf said. On the day of the accident, Stairs was delivering baby furniture to a residence with supervisor Randy Robinson, according to Pellegrini’s opinion. After making the delivery to the customers inside the home, Stairs walked back to the delivery truck, put his clipboard down on the back of the truck, and ran toward a basketball hoop on the residence’s driveway to try to jump up and grab its rim. It had rained earlier in the day, and Stairs’ fingers slipped, causing him to fall to the ground and hit his head, according to the opinion. At a hearing before a workers’ compensation judge, Robinson testified that though Stairs’ actions had been sudden and without warning, he had not found them to be inconvenient or bothersome. The judge granted Stairs’ claim petition, and the WCAB affirmed, according to the opinion, rejecting The Baby’s Room’s argument that Stairs had incurred his injuries’ outside the course of his employment because his actions deviated from the furtherance of The Baby’s Room’s business. Pellegrini wrote that under Commonwealth Court case precedent, traveling employees are not considered to be within the scope of their employment if their actions at the time of an accident “constitute an abandonment of [their] duties;” however, “inconsequential or innocent departures” from a normal routine do not break the course of employment. “At the core of this case is whether claimant’s action of grabbing the basketball rim, which claimant agrees was not in furtherance of employer’s business, was something more than a temporary, inconsequential departure from work so as not to break the course of his employment,” Pellegrini wrote, noting that “there is no fixed standard by which” to analyze departure-from-work injury cases. Under Pennsylvania case law, the term “course of employment” also embraces “intervals of leisure,” according to the opinion. In reaching its decision in The Baby’s Room, the judge had relied on the Superior Court’s 1959 decision in Mitchell v. Holland, in which benefits were awarded to a salesman who fell and died while climbing a ladder to pick fruit from a customer’s cherry tree. The judges in Mitchell had written that “even if decedent’s act of cherry picking is not construed to be part of his employment, it nevertheless constitutes such a slight departure as not to break the course of employment,” according to Pellegrini’s opinion. In a footnote, Pellegrini distinguished The Baby’s Room from the Commonwealth Court’s 1989 holding in Stevens v. WCAB. In Stevens, the claimant had stopped at a restaurant for a coffee break when he got into a fight that caused him to lose an eye; testimony had been presented that the claimant had walked toward the other man’s vehicle and challenged the other man. “Because [that] claimant’s actions were not an innocent departure from the course of his employment, unlike here, Stevens is not analogous to the facts presented in this case,” Pellegrini wrote. Though it affirmed the WCAB’s decision, the panel did not grant Stairs’ request for counsel fees. Pellegrini wrote in a footnote that The Baby’s Room’s appeal was not frivolous, as the facts in the case were novel. Wolf said that he believes the panel’s decision is in accordance with past case law dealing with departure-from-work injury cases. “I think it takes this particular fact pattern and brings it into the mold of [the decisions that have come] before it, but I don’t think it’s any substantial departure,” Wolf said. “That’s why I argued that it was a frivolous appeal.” The Baby’s Room was represented in the matter by Post & Schell partners John Devine, who handled the litigation, and Jonathan Sprague, who prepared the appellate brief. Devine agreed that the decision does not mark a departure from past holdings. “We knew that there was a possibility that either side could prevail on appeal, because of the fact specificity of the case,” Devine said.

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