• Injuries Sustained By Claimant Who, Through a State-Funded Program, Was Employed By Her Son as His Caregiver, Are Compensable Pursuant To the “Bunkhouse Rule” In That Her Presence on the Premises Was Required By the Nature of Her Employment
  • March 28, 2014 | Author: Francis X. Wickersham
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - King Of Prussia Office
  • Laura O’Rourke v. WCAB (Gartland); 1794 C.D. 2012; filed 1/8/14; by Judge McCullough

    Through a state-funded program, the claimant was employed by her son to provide care for him at her residence in exchange for an hourly wage. The claimant filed a claim petition, alleging that she sustained multiple injuries when, while she was sleeping in her bed, her son (employer) cut her throat with a butcher knife and inflicted three other stab wounds. The claimant later filed a review petition, alleging she needed medical treatment and was unable to work due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

    During litigation of the petitions, testimony was presented that: (1) the employer had not lived with his mother since he was 15 years old; (2) the employer had significant health issues, from a history of drug problems; (3) the employer underwent an amputation of his leg in 2007 and spent six months in a rehabilitation center; (4) the claimant agreed to care for the employer in her home until he got better and could live independently; and (5) the employer moved into the claimant’s residence. The care that the claimant provided included assistance with bathing and dressing, doing laundry, preparing meals and providing transportation. Although the care did not include 24-hour or nighttime care, the employer could request care during the evening or nighttime hours, but the worker had to be awake and providing care during those hours. Evidence was also presented that, on the night of the injury, after the claimant returned home at around 10:00 p.m., the employer and the claimant argued about preparing the employer something to eat. After getting the employer something to eat and fixing the couch up as his bed, the claimant went to bed at 11:30 p.m. Around 1:30 a.m., while asleep in her bed, the employer attacked her.

    The Workers’ Compensation Judge granted the claimant’s petition. In doing so, the Judge concluded that the claimant demonstrated that her employment required her to be on the employer’s premises at the time she sustained her injuries. He also concluded that it was the employer’s burden to prove that the attack occurred due to personal animosity and that the employer failed to meet his burden. The Appeal Board, however, reversed.

    The claimant appealed to the Commonwealth Court, and they reversed the Board. On appeal, the claimant argued that her injuries were compensable under the “bunkhouse rule,” which stemmed from a 1924 Supreme Court case wherein it was held that a claimant was considered to be in the course of employment while sleeping on premises, even though not actively favoring the interests of the employer and the time of the injury. Based on this opinion, the court construed the language of §301(c) of the Act to include those situations where the evidence establishes that an employee lives on the premises because he or she is “practically required” to do so. According to the court, under the circumstances of the case, the only feasible way for the claimant to provide the employer with attendant care was to do so in her home. The court also held that, under the “bunkhouse rule, “ it was immaterial that the claimant was not sleeping and not furthering the interests of the employer at the time of the assault.