Aviation Employer Fights Workers’ Comp Claim by Alleging Employee Did Not Lose Her Leg on the Job
Employers sometimes go to great lengths to deny a workers’ compensation claim, and one tactic they may use is to assert that the employee was not actually “on the job” when the injury occurred. That tactic was tried recently, although unsuccessfully, by Starr Aviation, based at the Pittsburgh International Airport, when one of the company’s employees filed for benefits after suffering an injury that led to the loss of her leg.
Modesty Colquitt was employed as a ramp agent for Starr Aviation, and her responsibilities included driving a vehicle called a “tug,” which was used to pull airplanes into gates. On the day of the accident, Colquitt obtained permission from her supervisor to drive the tug across the airport terminal to retrieve some personal items, such as money and dinner, which she needed for her break. While driving across the airport, the tug flipped over and trapped her left leg underneath. She was rushed to a hospital where her leg was amputated below the knee, resulting in a permanent inability to work as an airport ramp agent.
Colquitt filed for workers’ compensation claiming she suffered the loss of her leg while performing work within her scope of duties. A workers’ comp judge approved her benefits, but her employer filed an appeal claiming she had not been injured within the course of employment.
Starr presented other employees to testify against Colquitt in an attempt to prove that she was not really working when she was injured. None of the witnesses’ testimonies, however, convinced the fact finder that Colquitt’s injuries occurred as a result of her slacking off, taking a break, or deviating from her on-the-job responsibilities.
One employee testified that she had offered Colquitt money to purchase dinner and other items, but that offer was refused. Another employee claimed he witnessed Colquitt operate the tug “entirely too fast” the day the accident occurred. A final employee testified that Colquitt offered him some crackers during a break.
The fact finder, however, found Colquitt’s story to be more credible than the witnesses’ stories. Citing Pennsylvania’s “Personal Comfort Doctrine,” the judge found that the injury occurred while Colquitt was on the job, and she was entitled to workers’ comp benefits. He ruled that because Colquitt had asked for and received permission from her supervisor to drive the tug for ten minutes to retrieve personal items — which she needed to continue working through her shift — it did not take her away from her course of employment.
Rudberg Law Offices, LLC can help build a strong case for workers’ compensation benefits if your employer tries to deny your claim. Call us at 412-488-6000 or contact us online to speak with one of our experienced workers’ comp lawyers.