An appellate judge in Pennsylvania recently ruled in favor of a restaurant worker who was seeking Workers’ Compensation benefits for injuries he suffered as a result of being bitten by a coworker’s dog while on a smoke break.
The man, a part-time cook, suffered lacerations to the face resulting in disfigurement and six days of missed work. The restaurant had initially denied the employee’s request that it pay for his medical bills and related expenses, arguing the injuries occurred outside the course and scope of his employment.
In 2010, a Workers’ Compensation judge ruled in the man’s favor and found that the injuries had in fact occurred in the course and scope of employment, therefore entitling him to Workers’ Compensation benefits. Following that decision, however, the restaurant filed an appeal. It argued that the man should not receive benefits because he had been warned not to pet the dog, and further that he had abandoned his duties during his cigarette break.
The appellate judge rejected the restaurant’s line of reasoning and upheld the lower court’s decision to award Workers’ Compensation benefits to the injured cook. The written decision points out that the man’s injuries took place on the in the regular smoke break area on the restaurant’s premises, as well as within three feet of an employer-provided ash tray tower, which the court took as evidence that the many was still acting within his employment when he went on break.
Furthermore, the court went on to explain, periodic smoke breaks that do not interfere with work duties are considered “intervals for leisure” occurring within the scope of employment. The court also noted that the act of petting the dog was an inconsequential departure from the man’s work-related duties and did not remove him from the scope of employment.
This case provides a useful illustration of some important concepts in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation law, including the fact that a worker may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits for injuries occurring in the workplace even if those injuries are not directly related to his or her employment duties – and even if he or she is on break at the time the injuries occur.
In addition, as this case demonstrates, an injured worker may be eligible to benefits even if the employer is in no way at fault for causing the injuries. In fact, workers are often eligible to receive benefits even if their injuries are caused by their own mistake or error in judgment. Pennsylvania workers who have been hurt on the job are encouraged to schedule a consultation with a Workers’ Compensation lawyer in their area to learn about the options available to protect their legal rights and pursue maximum compensation for their injuries, lost wages and other losses.