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The “personal comfort doctrine” should be considered when a worker is injured during a personal break during work hours

January 25, 2023

By Richard P. Gaitens, Esquire

In Gaines v. Family Care Center, the Workers Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) reversed the Workers’ Compensation Judge’s decision that the injured worker was not in the scope of employment when she moved her car during work hours and suffered an injury. Sandra Gaines was injured in a car accident when she left work to move her car. She and her fellow co-workers parked a few blocks away from their building, but because of a recent string of car burglaries, employees were moving their cars closer to the building if they were working late at night. The supervisor was aware of the situation and it was not prohibited.

The WCJ ruled that the injured worker failed to meet the burden of proof because she was on a personal errand during work hours without express permission from her supervisor. The WCAB disagreed. They found that it was an accepted practice for workers to move their cars without specific permission. Furthermore, they found that Ms. Gaines was in the scope of employment under the “personal comfort doctrine.” Moving the car “benefited the Claimant’s overall wellbeing and ability to work a full l2-hour shift without worrying about her safety in leaving late at night in an unsafe parking garage.”

What does this mean? Under the “personal comfort doctrine,” injuries that occur when an employee is conducting personal business may still be in the scope of employment and thus eligible for benefits. There is no fixed standard for evaluating these types of injuries, so it is advisable to speak with a knowledgeable Workers’ Compensation attorney regarding your specific case.

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