Commonwealth Court Expands the Scope of Good Samaritan Amendment to the Workers’ Compensation Act

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In 2003, the Pennsylvania General Assembly amended Section 601 of the Workers’ Compensation Act to expand the definition of the word “employee” to include employees who, while in the course and scope of their employment, provide aid to a person in order to (1) prevent the commission of a crime, (2) apprehend someone suspected of having committed a crime or (3) render emergency care, first aid or rescue at the scene of an emergency.  77 P.S. §1031(a)(10).  This amendment is commonly referred to as the Good Samaritan amendment and has historically been limited in its application – applying to volunteer emergency personnel only.  Recently, however, the Commonwealth Court rejected this limitation and effectively expanded the Good Samaritan amendment to apply to any employee who provides “Good Samaritan” type aid while in the course and scope of his or her employment.

In Pipeline Systems, Inc. v. WCAB (Pound), the Claimant was injured when he responded to a call for help – “man down. Jack fell.”  Claimant was assisting with the installation of pipelines and manholes at a borough sanitation plant.  Near the pipeline installation was a concrete pit.  On the day of the incident, Claimant and others responded to the call for help and found a borough employee lying at the bottom of the pit.  Claimant and others descended a ladder into the pit in an effort to help the man, but unfortunately discovered that the man had died in the fall.  While climbing out of the pit, Claimant lost consciousness and fell 20 feet, injuring his left leg, knee, foot, ribs, back and lung.  He sought workers’ compensation benefits, but the employer denied that he was entitled to benefits, arguing that Claimant went outside the course and scope of his employment when he decided to be a Good Samaritan.  Employer relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Kmart Corp. v. WCAB (Fitzsimmons).   In Kmart Corp., the Supreme Court held that a Kmart employee was not in the course and scope of her employment when she was injured while rendering aid to a fellow employee, who was in the Kmart food court on her lunch break and was being attacked by her estranged boyfriend.  In litigation, the employer also argued that the Good Samaritan amendment to the Act did not apply to Claimant, as Claimant was not volunteer emergency personnel.

The Commonwealth Court, in Pipeline Systems, rejected the employer’s arguments, citing the Good Samaritan amendment, which was adopted three years after the Supreme Court decided the Kmart case.  The Court found that the amendment was not limited to volunteer emergency personnel and could apply to any employee who renders aid to another while in the course and scope of his/her employment.  In this case, the Court found that Claimant was within the course and scope of his employment when he was injured, because he was “in the midst of his work” when he responded to the call for help, climbed into the pit, and fell.

In light of this ruling, employers will be unable to deny benefits for injuries sustained by Good Samaritan employees (as defined in Section 601), unless they can show that the employee was outside the course and scope of employment when the Good Samaritan aid was provided.  Under most circumstances, this will be a difficult burden for the employer to meet.  Accordingly, it is our recommendation that employers consider adopting Good Samaritan policies.  Employees should be told to refrain from putting themselves or others at risk and instead follow protocols for contacting emergency personnel and reporting the emergency to the appropriate person within the company.  Having such a policy in place may not preclude an employee from receiving benefits if he or she violates the policy, provides aid and is injured but it could dissuade employees from intervening in dangerous situations that they are not trained to deal with, thereby helping to reduce the possibility of an injury being suffered.  Additionally, under the right set of facts, the employee could be disciplined for violating a positive work rule, which may preclude him or her from receiving workers’ compensation wage loss benefits.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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