On The Road Again: Where Does Jurisdiction Lie for a Traveling Employee's Out of State Work Injury?

by McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC

For companies that employ traveling employees, such as truck drivers, dealing with work injuries sustained by such employees can be challenging, because predicting which state will have jurisdiction over the employee's injury is not always easy.  In a recent decision, Watt v. WCAB (Boyd Bros. Transp.), the Commonwealth Court provided some guidance on this jurisdictional question, as least as applied to Pennsylvania law.  As is often the case, the injured driver in Watt sought worker's compensation benefits in Pennsylvania, which offered  more generous coverage than other potential benefits from New Jersey or Alabama.   In Watt, the Court held that Pennsylvania did not have jurisdiction over a workers' compensation claim made by a Pennsylvania resident, who was injured in New Jersey while working for an Alabama trucking company.  In so holding, the Court examined and applied the extra-territorial jurisdiction provisions of the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act.


In Watt, the claimant, a Pennsylvania resident, applied to work as an interstate truck driver for Boyd Brothers Transportation by responding to an online advertisement.  After a successful telephone interview, the claimant attended a mandatory training course in Ohio.  Thereafter, the claimant and his new employer entered into a "workers' compensation agreement" that provided as follows:


  • that the employee would be subject to Alabama workers' compensation law and  Alabama law would govern any workers' compensation claims brought by the employee;
  • that the employer administered all workers' compensation claims from Alabama;
  • that the employee's state of hire was Alabama; and
  • that the employee's employment would principally be localized within Alabama. 

Shortly after beginning his employment, the claimant was injured in New Jersey.


Per the agreement, the company provided workers' compensation benefits to the employee under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act.  However, claimant filed a claim for benefits in his home state of Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania workers' compensation benefits are generally available, where (a) an injury occurs in Pennsylvania; (b) where employment is "principally localized" in Pennsylvania; (c) where a contract of hire is made in Pennsylvania for employment that is not principally localized in any state; or (d) where the contract of hire is made in Pennsylvania for employment principally located in another state whose workers' compensation law is not applicable to the employer for some reason. An important exception exists where the employment is regularly in at least one other state and there is an agreement that such other state's laws shall apply.  Such agreements are enforceable, unless the other state refuses jurisdiction.  An "exception to the exception" exists in the above scenario, however, when the injury occurs in Pennsylvania.  In that circumstance, the written agreement conferring jurisdiction on another state is unenforceable.


In denying his claim for benefits in Pennsylvania, the PA Workers' Compensation Judge found that claimant's employment was not "principally localized" in Pennsylvania and that the workers' compensation agreement between claimant and the employer was enforceable.  The PA Workers' Compensation Appeal Board affirmed.  On appeal to the Commonwealth Court, the claimant argued that his employment was principally located in Pennsylvania, as he logged more miles in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania than in any other state.  He also argued that the workers' compensation agreement was void and contrary to public policy and should not have been relied upon when determining where his employment was principally localized.


The Commonwealth Court rejected these arguments and affirmed the WCJ and WCAB decisions.  As to claimant's first argument, the Court found that while he was domiciled in Pennsylvania, that was not enough to find that his employment was principally located in Pennsylvania.  Indeed, driving logs demonstrated that claimant spent only 19 percent of his driving time in Pennsylvania.  The Court held that although he "may have spent more time and driven more miles in Pennsylvania than any other one state, he did not spend a substantial part of his working time in Pennsylvania" as required for PA jurisdiction under Section 305.2(d)(4) of the Act.  Accordingly, claimant's employment was not principally located in any one state.


Turning to claimant's second argument, the Commonwealth Court held that the workers' compensation agreement between claimant and the employer did not violate public policy and that the same was valid.  The Court pointed to Section 305.2(d)(5) of the Act, which states:


"An employee whose duties require him to travel regularly in the service of his employer in this and one or more other states may, by written agreement with his employer, provide that his employment is principally localized in this or another state, and, unless such other state refuses jurisdiction, such agreement shall be given effect under this act."


In consideration of the above, the Court reasoned that because claimant's employment was not principally localized in Pennsylvania, because he was injured in New Jersey, and because Alabama did not refuse jurisdiction over his claim, the workers' compensation agreement controlled and did not violate public policy and served as a legitimate factor in determining jurisdiction.


So, what does the Watt case mean for Pennsylvania employers?  It serves as a reminder of the extra-territorial jurisdiction provisions of the PA Workers' Compensation Act and provides insight into how a PA employer might structure an agreement with a traveling employee to either avoid or ensure that jurisdiction over work injuries lies in Pennsylvania.  Because Pennsylvania is so much more costly in terms of workers' compensation benefit payments, employers might also utilize the "extraterritorial provisions" of the Act to structure driving jobs, as did the employer in Watt, to make sure  choice of law agreements will be enforced by Pennsylvania Courts, should a challenge arise.  Keep in mind, however, that even an otherwise enforceable agreement will be of little use, in a case where the injury actually occurs in Pennsylvania.

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.

© McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC

McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.