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The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has affirmed the decision of a workers’compensation judge denying workers’ compensation benefits to an employee who was injured while crossing a five-lane highway to retrieve personal items from his car during work hours. The case is Wright v. W.C.A.B. (Larpat Muffler Inc.). Frank Wright was employed by Larpat Muffler Inc. as a mechanic and his employer’s place of business was located along side of a five-line highway. Because the employer’s parking lots were under construction, claimant was instructed to park across the highway, in a Kmart parking lot. On the date of his injury, April 7, 1998, the claimant had already crossed the highway and punched in at work. Later that morning, the claimant decided to retrieve some auto parts from his personal vehicle that he had previously purchased from the employer and wished to exchange. Although there was a crosswalk at an intersection approximately 75 feet from his employer’s business that had a walk sign and a button for pedestrians to push, claimant crossed the road outside of the crosswalk and was struck by an automobile while doing so. The claimant sustained injuries to his left leg, back and neck and requested workers’compensation benefits. The claimant’s employer took the position that the injuries were not work-related, and the claimant filed a claim petition. On May 14, 1999, the WCJ circulated a decision denying the claimant’s claim petition, concluding that the claimant failed to establish that he was in the course of his employment because he was pursuing his personal affairs at the time of the accident. The claimant appealed and the Workers’Compensation Appeal Board vacated and remanded the decision, holding that the WCJ failed to address whether the claimant was on the employer’s premises when the injuries occurred, whether he was required to be there by the nature of his employment and whether the condition of the employer’s premises caused the injuries. Citing an earlier decision of the Commonwealth Court in Dana Corp. v. W.C.A.B. (Gearhart), the board noted that a street may be a condition of the premises sufficient to warrant entitlement to compensation. Specifically, in Dana Corp., the Commonwealth Court held that an employee injured while crossing the street to get to the employer’s parking lot was in the course of his employment. On remand, the WCJ determined that the highway could be considered part of the employer’s premises, consistent with the Dana decision. However, the WCJ again found that the injury occurred during a time that the claimant was not required to be on the highway by the nature of his employment, and again it denied the claimant’s petition. The claimant appealed again and the board affirmed, agreeing with the WCJ that the claimant was crossing the highway for a purely personal reason and that at the time he was struck, claimant was supposed to be working in his employer’s shop. On appeal to the Commonwealth Court, the claimant argued that his case was analogous with prior decisions of the Commonwealth and Supreme courts finding that employees were in the course of employment while crossing a public road between the employee parking lot and the work site. Although acknowledging that the courts had found injuries sustained in such circumstances to be compensable in Epler v. N. American Rockwell Corp., Thomas Jefferson University Hospital v. W.C.A.B. (Cattalo), and PPG Industries v. W.C.A.B. (Uleski), the court distinguished the instant matter from those cases, each of which involved an employee injured immediately prior to or directly following the work shift. Here, the claimant was injured during his work shift while pursuing a purely personal mission. Thus, the court applied the rationale from a different line of cases where employees were injured on the employer’s premises during work hours, but while pursuing personal matters. The court cited Giebel v. W.C.A.B. (Sears Roebuck & Co.), where an employee slipped and fell in a store while shopping on her lunch hour. The claimant’s injuries in that case were found to be not work-related because the claimant was “in a place where her presence was not required by the nature of her employment.” The court also cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Kmart Corp. v. W.C.A.B. (Fitzsimmons), where an employee on her lunch hour at a public restaurant located on the employer’s premises intervened in an attack on a co-worker who was stabbed by her husband. The claimant then alleged a work-related mental injury as a result of the incident. The Supreme Court determined that the employee was not required by the nature of employment to either come to the aid of her co-employee or to be at that location at the time of the incident and thus found that the claimant was not in the course of her employment when injured. Relying upon these cases, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the decision of the board and denied Wright’s claim petition. Although the Commonwealth Court appears comfortable with expanding the “employer’s premises” to areas beyond the physical structure of the workplace, thus increasing an employer’s potential liability, it also continues to scrutinize the employee’s activities while on the premises to ensure that claimant’s presence there is required by the nature of his employment. Quite clearly, had the claimant here been injured while crossing the highway immediately after first arriving in the Kmart parking lot, his injuries would have been compensable. Fortunately for employers, however, the Pennsylvania courts take a closer look when employees are performing personal activities on company time.

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