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Obtaining Workers’ Compensation for Workplace Violence

A man shot repeatedly while sitting in a vehicle outside the convenience store where he worked. Now, the state high court in Pennsylvania has ruled that he is indeed eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits for those injuries. gun

Judges with the Commonwealth Court ruled the injuries were indeed work-related, noting he was shot shortly after he was threatened by the relatives of a woman he just had arrested for stealing. The state court ruling upheld the finding of a workers’ compensation judge and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. His employer had appealed to the top court in an attempt to try to deny payment for the incident, which happened in May 2008. A big part of the reason the store fought so hard against payment was likely because, as records show, the company didn’t have the required workers’ compensation coverage at the time of the incident. That meant payment for the injury was on the state’s uninsured employer guaranty fund.

The case, although out-of-state, highlights how we define covered injuries in the context of work-related violence. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration considers workplace violence to be any act or threat of physical violence, intimidation, harassment or other threatening disruptive behavior that happens at work. Approximately 2 million workers in America are victims of this every year. However, not all have an easy time securing workers’ compensation benefits. 

We usually think of workplace violence as involving some unknown third party, such as a person carrying out a robbery of a bank or store. However, a substantial number of workplace violence instances involve other workers or sometimes clients, students or patients. In some cases, the attacker is a family member or some other individual with whom the victim has a personal relationship.

The fact that someone was assaulted while at work doesn’t automatically entitle the worker to benefits. Legally, the worker has the burden of proving he or she suffered injuries that arose out of and in the course of employment. So in cases where an incident stems from a purely personal dispute, employers may prevail in denying workers’ compensation benefits. Even in cases where a worker has been assaulted by a co-worker, the victim still needs to show the violence grew out of or was somehow connected to the relationship developed as fellow employees or acts in the performance of work. Otherwise, it’s going to be tough to get benefits.

In this case out of Pennsylvania, plaintiff was a Bangladeshi citizen who lived in the U.S. and worked 10-hour days, six days every week for a cash payment of $1,200 twice every month. This store had a known shoplifting issue, and was affixed with 16 total cameras to watch the property.

Plaintiff had just closed up shop one night and was sitting in his vehicle on a public street curb in front of the store when the shooting happened. Two masked individuals stood in front of the vehicle, shot into it repeatedly – hitting both occupants of the car – and then fled. Plaintiff was in a coma for five days. He was shot in the chest, leg, liver and thumb, and alleged his injuries had caused him to suffer permanent disabilities.

The store owner, meanwhile, argued that the shooting happened after plaintiff had already pulled away from the curb. Employer argued the shooting could well have been related to plaintiff’s marital problems, as the shooters were never identified.

State high court judges rejected that argument. First, the judges found the shooting was work-related because the public street outside the store constituted part of the employer’s property because the store didn’t have a parking lot, and the only access to it was from that street. Once an employee gets to the employer’s premises, getting to or leaving one’s work station is a necessary part of employment, and thus, the injury occurred in the course and scope of employment. Plus, the fact that the worker had been threatened earlier that same day by a shoplifter’s family gave credibility to the assertion that those were the likely perpetrators, rather than anyone connected to the plaintiff’s estranged wife.

If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston work accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

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