Commonwealth Court Reaffirms Residency Does Not Provide Jurisdiction in Workers Compensation

CommCtRecently, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, once again, addressed the issue of state jurisdiction over a workers compensation claim.

In this case, a Pennsylvania resident was injured in an auto accident in New Jersey, while working for a trucking company based out of Alabama.  During the pendency of the claim, the Claimant was receiving workers compensation benefits through the state of Alabama.   When the Claimant applied for his position, he testified that he completed an online application at his home in Pennsylvania.  He sought to have his benefits transferred to Pennsylvania.

Claimant’s argument was set forth:

According to Claimant, the totality of the facts lead to the inescapable conclusion that his employment was principally localized in Pennsylvania because he lived in Pennsylvania, and he worked in Pennsylvania more than any other state.

The jurisdictional elements for a work injury to be compensable in Pennsylvania have been set forth in the Workers Compensation Act (herein referred to as “Act”).  First, and foremost, Pennsylvania will always have jurisdiction over a work injury that occurs in Pennsylvania.  However, Pennsylvania also has ‘extra-territorial” provisions that allow the state to grab jurisdiction on work injuries that  occur outside Pennsylvania.   They are set forth at Sections 305.2, 77 P.S. 411.2.  A Claimant will be entitled to benefits if;

(1) his employment is principally localized in this state, or

(2) he is working under a contract of hire made in this state, in employment not principally localized in any state, or

(3) he is working under a contract of hire made in this state, in employment localized in another state, whose workmen’s compensation law is not applicable to his employer…

(4) A person’s employment is principally localized in this or another state when,

(i) his employer has a regular place of business in this or such other state and he regularly works at or from such place of business, or

(ii) having worked at or from such place of business, his duties have required him to go outside of the state not over one year, or

(iii) if clauses (1) and (2) are not applicable, he is domiciled and spends a substantial part of his working time in the service of his employer in this or such other state.

At issue in this case was (iii) section above, which I italicized.  Here the Claimant was contending that since he was domiciled in Pennsylvania and he drove over 6,000 miles in Pennsylvania for his job duties, he then meets section (iii) above.

In addition, the Claimant argued the following:

In this regard, Claimant maintains he kept his truck in Pennsylvania, and Employer occasionally dispatched him from his home in Pennsylvania. In addition, the WCJ credited Claimant’s testimony and documentary evidence in the form of daily trip logs

The Court rejected Claimant’s argument.  it noted:

Although Claimant may have spent more time and driven more miles in Pennsylvania than any other state, he did not spend “a substantial part of his working time” in Pennsylvania. Comparatively speaking, Claimant spent only a small percentage more in Pennsylvania than some of the other high totaling states, like Virginia and Ohio. Stated otherwise, he did not work from Pennsylvania “as a rule.”

As you can see, jurisdiction is still a legal ‘gray area’ open to interpretation and ultimately argument.  Jurisdiction is a provision under the Act that is quite fact sensitive and is still developing through jurisprudence.

Given the complexity of Workers Compensation and the extreme importance of individual rights under the Act, it is critical that when you are injured at work, to contact an experienced workers compensation attorney immediately. We’ve said it before and will continue to say it, insurance defense counsel is reviewing and making recommendations on your claim.  Shouldn’t you have professional guidance on your side as well.

If you have been hurt on the job, contact Mooney & Associates immediately. We have offices located throughout Central Pennsylvania, including:  Chambersburg, Mercersburg, Shippensburg, Carlisle, Harrisburg, York, Gettysburg, Hanover, Halifax, Duncannon, Stewartstown.  We can meet you in the location most convenient for you.  As always, our consultations for workers compensation cases are FREE.  Call us at 1-877-632-4656 or email me direct at mab@mooney4law.com.