Benjamin Franklin bridge in Philadelphia. Photo: Shutterstock

In a case of first impression, a Pennsylvania court has affirmed the ruling of a workers’ compensation judge that held that an industrial painter’s injury claim from an accident he suffered under the Benjamin Franklin Bridge cannot be litigated in Pennsylvania because it happened on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.

Plaintiff Zachary Kreschollek filed a workers’ compensation claim for injuries he sustained while working on the bridge for Commodore Maintenance Corp.

A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel consisting of Judges Mary Hannah Leavitt, Patricia McCullough and Christine Fizzano Cannon held that while Pennsylvania and New Jersey are joint owners of the bridge, Kreschollek had no claim in Pennsylvania, as he was injured while working under the New Jersey side of the bridge.

According to the appeals court’s Jan. 7 published opinion, Kreschollek, an apprentice industrial painter, was working while standing on the ground underneath the PATCO rail line on the New Jersey side of the bridge when he was accidentally struck on the arm by a blast of sand. When he dove out of the way of the stream of sand, he broke his fall with his right hand and injured his wrist, the opinion said.

McCullough wrote in court’s opinion that the issue of whether Pennsylvania’s joint ownership of property gives its courts jurisdiction over a workers’ compensation claim was one of first impression.

Citing the compact entered into by the two states to form the Delaware River Bridge Joint Commission, McCullough said, “The compact does not make any reference to jurisdiction for purposes of workers’ compensation claims, let alone confer jurisdiction to Pennsylvania authorities under the act for injuries occurring in New Jersey. In this regard, there is no dispute that claimant was not injured on the bridge itself or on a highway or road leading to the bridge. Rather, claimant was injured while working underneath the bridge and standing on the ground in New Jersey.”

McCullough added that Section 101 of the Workers’ Compensation Act states that it applies only to “injuries occurring within this commonwealth.”

McCullough also pointed out that the cases Kreschollek cited were not binding precedent, and were factually different from his case.

“We note that claimant relies on several decisions from the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County relating to the concurrent jurisdiction of Pennsylvania and New Jersey over the DRPA property,” McCullough said. “However, aside from the fact these cases are not binding on this court, each case is factually distinguishable from the present case in that each involved a motor vehicle accident occurring on the span of either the Benjamin Franklin or Walt Whitman Bridges and the propriety of a suit initiated in this commonwealth related to said accidents. As noted above, claimant was not injured on the bridge itself. Additionally, none of these cases involved claims for work-related injuries under the act.”

Kreschollek is represented by Daniel J. Siegel of the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel in Havertown, Pennsylvania, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Commodore is represented by Jason Hanford of Chartwell Law in Eagleville, Pennsylvania, who also did not respond to a request for comment.