Pennsylvania Store Manager Trying To Stop A Theft Awarded Workers Compensation Benefits

CommCtA Pennsylvania gas station store manager who suffered a traumatic brain injury when attempting to foil a store theft, has been awarded workers compensation benefits in a decision by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.   The decision by the Court overturned the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Appeal Board’s (WCAB) decision to deny the store manager benefits.  Here are the facts of what happened.

Wetzel was working at a BP store near Pittsburgh when a theft bid occurred in November 2009. He chased the suspect, drew a pistol and jumped on the man’s car during the confrontation and was thrown from the car and run over. Wetzel sustained a traumatic brain injury and was left comatose until he died five months later.

The rule at play here is ‘abandoned employment’.   Although the actual Workers Compensation Judge awarded benefits, the WCAB overturned the decision stating that when the store manager pursued the thief, he abandoned his employment, and therefore, was not entitled to benefits.  Essentially, the WCAB stated that chasing a thief was not part of the store manager’s employment and therefore, he abandoned his job.

The rule of abandoned employment is set out in prior case law.

“‘[a]n employee is entitled to compensation for every injury received on the premises of his employer during the hours of employment . . . so long as there is nothing to show that he had abandoned the course of his employment or was engaged in something wholly foreign thereto.’” Trigon Holdings, Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Griffith), 74 A.3d 359, 362 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013) (quoting Henry v. Lit Brothers, 165 A.2d 406, 409 (Pa. Super. 1960)) (emphasis in original).

Much of the conclusion of this Court centered around past practices.  The WCJ accepted as credible testimony that the employer in the past had allowed employees to be armed and allowed employee to attempt to stop a theft in progress.

Given the past practice by Employer of permitting Decedent to not only carry a firearm, but to thwart a robbery attempt without consequence, we conclude that Decedent did not actively disengage himself from his work responsibilities when he attempted to stop the thief from fleeing Employer’s premises on November 28, 2009. While the events of November 28, 2009 show that Decedent perhaps made an error in judgment, the facts, as found by the WCJ, support the conclusion that Decedent’s job duties, as Employer’s night manager, included securing the safety of his fellow employees and the customers who patronized Employer’s store.

Furthermore, the Court found that the employee was not chasing and engaging the thief to further his own interests, but to further the interests of his employer.

Many times, employers will tell employees or simply deny claims based on exceptions within the Act, such as violating positive work orders or abandonment of employment.  In most cases, these are entirely fact sensitive.   If you have been injured at work and have been told that you are not eligible for workers compensation benefits, seek an attorney right away.  Your benefits provided by the Act are too important to ignore.

Mooney & Associates provides 12 convenient locations to meet with injured workers in Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Perry, and York counties. If you’ve been injured at work and want to speak with me about your work injury, simply complete the small form on our Contact Me page by clicking here, or call 1-877-632-4656.

Mark Buterbaugh

Attorney representing injured workers and Social Security Disability clients in Pennsylvania and Maryland.