In a case with somewhat bizarre facts [see Pennsylvania State Univ. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd. (Rabin), 2012 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 245], a Pennsylvania appellate court recently affirmed an award of death benefits to the widow of a college professor who died from complications related to surgery on a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder. The professor sustained the injuries when he fell at a restaurant salad bar during a lunch meeting with a student; the two were discussing the student’s upcoming defense of his doctoral thesis. The professor was chairperson of the student’s dissertation committee and the student and professor had met regularly to discuss the student’s doctoral material. Other evidence suggested that the professor had met with students in off-campus restaurant settings on a number of other occasions.
The university contended that the widow failed to meet the burden of proof that the professor’s injuries had been sustained within the course and scope of the employment, that the professor was a stationary employee on a lunch break at a public restaurant when he fell and, therefore, the injuries were not compensable. The appellate court agreed that the general rule provides that employees are on their own time at lunch and an off-premises injury is not ordinarily sustained in the course of one’s employment. The court observed, however, that the relevant Pennsylvania statute [77 P.S. § 411 (2012)] included within the definition of injury any injury sustained while actually engaged in the furtherance of the business or affairs of the employer, whether upon the employer’s premises or elsewhere. The court noted that the WCJ found that the professor and doctoral student planned a multiple-hour meeting, including a working lunch, in direct furtherance of Penn State’s affairs. On these facts, the professor’s trip to the salad bar could not logically be construed as anything more than an inconsequential departure from his work as a professor, in which he was essentially engaged at the time.