An issue that frequently arises in workers’ compensation cases is the issue of jurisdiction: which state does your claim get processed through? Most people walk through the door wrongly assuming that they are receiving or going to receive workers’ compensation in the Pennsylvania jurisdiction because either they live in PA or their employer has an office in PA. There are also cases when people are receiving compensation under another state’s jurisdiction when it should be in PA, but they are not aware of this jurisdiction issue. When a lawyer discusses with you which state should control your workers’ compensation claim, he or she is talking about the jurisdiction of your claim. This article outlines how to determine if you can make an argument for your claim to be processed in Pennsylvania or not. It also explains why jurisdiction is an issue you need to think about when you have a workers’ compensation injury.
Determining jurisdiction is important because workers’ compensation is a state law. Each state has their own workers’ compensation laws that are different from every other state’s laws. There is not a uniform federal law that controls how the states regulate their workers’ compensation systems. While some states’ laws are similar, they can also be extremely different even if the states are relatively seamless for living and travel much like Pennsylvania and New Jersey. An example of this is that in Pennsylvania, when you have an accepted workers’ compensation claim, if a doctor eventually finds you to be fully recovered from your injury, the insurance company must file a petition in court and ask a judge to terminate your workers’ compensation benefits. However, in New Jersey, an insurance company does not need to go through that step of filing in the courtroom and bringing the issue before a judge to decide. In that situation, it is much more beneficial to be in Pennsylvania than in New Jersey jurisdiction. In a different example, if you sustain a hernia injury in Pennsylvania, you are entitled to lost wages and medical bills resulting from your injury. Once your hernia resolves and you return to work, your claim is essentially resolved. However, in New Jersey, there are certain benefits you can receive simply because you sustained a hernia injury that Pennsylvania does not have. In that case, having New Jersey jurisdiction may be more beneficial for your claim than having it administered in Pennsylvania. The different state rules and associated risks and benefits are important to understand when determining which jurisdiction your workers’ compensation claim falls under. A workers’ compensation lawyer can help you figure out which jurisdiction is best for your claim and if you can make an argument for that jurisdiction based on the facts of your case. Even if your claim would be better served in a different state, you cannot simply pick and choose. Your claim must satisfy certain requirements within each state to qualify in that jurisdiction.
There are a few different ways for a claim to fall under Pennsylvania jurisdiction. The first is straightforward: if you are hurt in Pennsylvania, your claim is accepted in Pennsylvania. It does not matter where you were hired or where you contract says your claim should be administered. If the injury happens within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it is administered by Pennsylvania no matter what some agreement may say that you signed when hired. This is an easy one to remember: if you are hurt in PA, you stay in PA.
If the injury occurs outside of Pennsylvania, you can make an argument for your claim to still have Pennsylvania jurisdiction. Your claim would fall under the extraterritorial provisions in the Workers’ Compensation Act. If these provisions are met, they bring an injury that occurred in another state within the Pennsylvania jurisdiction. These are “or” provisions, not “and” provisions. This means that your claim need only meet one of these standards and still fall within Pennsylvania jurisdiction. They do not have to meet all of the provisions. The provisions are outlined here:
If your employer is principally localized in Pennsylvania (principally localized is explained below); OR
If you’re working under a contract of hire made in Pennsylvania and your employment is not principally localized in any state; OR
If you’re working under a contract of hire made in Pennsylvania in employment principally localized in another state whose workers’ compensation law is not applicable to your employer; OR
If you’re working under a contract of hire made in Pennsylvania in employment outside of the United States.
If you satisfy one of those requirements, your claim can qualify to be issued under Pennsylvania jurisdiction. But what do “contract of hire” and “principally localized” even mean?
“Contract of hire” means where you accepted the offer of employment. Let’s say for example you interviewed over the phone while you were at your home in NJ, but then you went into your Employer’s office in PA to formally accept the job and sign paperwork. The contract of hire was made in PA because you were in PA when you accepted the job and the Employer hired you. Now let’s flip the facts. You interviewed over the phone at your home in PA, but then you went to the NJ office to accept the job and sign your employment contract. The contract of hire was made in NJ, not in PA in this situation. If you are at home when the job is offered to you and you accept over the phone, wherever your home is located is what state the contract of hire will fall under. The moment when the job is formally offered and accepted is the point of time when the courts look at to determine where the contract of hire happened.
“Principally localized” is defined as follows: A person’s employment is principally localized in this or another state when (i) the employer has a place of business in this or such other state and the employee regularly works at or from such place of business, or (ii) having worked at or from such place of business, the employee’s duties have required him or her to go outside of the State not over one year, or (iii) if clauses (1) and (2) are not applicable, the employee is domiciled and spends a substantial part of his or her working time in the service of the employer in this or such other state. In order for employer to be principally localized in a particular state, you must establish that the Employer has a place of business in that state and that you regularly worked at or from that place of business.
So, if you are injured outside of Pennsylvania and want to argue that your Employer is principally localized in Pennsylvania, you must be able to establish that your Employer has a place of business in Pennsylvania and you regularly worked out of it. You can also argue that your Employer did not have a principal location in any state, but you were hired in Pennsylvania bringing your claim under PA jurisdiction. While there are set provisions to follow for injuries occurring outside of Pennsylvania, each case is fact specific. What that means is that the judge needs to look at the specific circumstances surrounding your employment and your injury to apply to the extraterritorial provisions and determine proper jurisdiction. Judges will look at the facts of your case to determine where your contract of hire was, where your Employer is principally located, and where you perform a substantial part of your work activity.
These provisions usually applies to truck drivers and delivery drivers who travel out of state for work though they live in Pennsylvania. Even if you are injured in New Jersey when coming from a job that started in New York, your injury can still be found to have Pennsylvania jurisdiction if your Employer is located in Pennsylvania and you regularly work at or from the Pennsylvania location. On the other hand, if live in Pennsylvania but you are working and are injured in New Jersey with minimal contacts to Pennsylvania (limited to phone/mail) and you do not work at or from your Employer’s Pennsylvania location, your claim will not have Pennsylvania jurisdiction. If your Employer has offices in Pennsylvania but you work out of the New Jersey office and are injured in New Jersey but perform a majority of your work in Pennsylvania, you will have New Jersey jurisdiction because your Employer will be held to have a business in New Jersey that controls the activities at the site you report to. Therefore, in a situation like this last example, the Employer is principally localized in New Jersey for all intents and purposes. If you are a truck driver, your employment will be principally localized in Pennsylvania if your driving log shows that your time spent in Pennsylvania is much higher than your time spent any other jurisdiction. If your employment is not principally localized in any state, you will have Pennsylvania jurisdiction if your contract of hire was made in PA.
This is a lot of complex information. It is extremely important to speak with a lawyer to see if there is any argument to be made to establish Pennsylvania jurisdiction if the laws in Pennsylvania are more favorable for your claim.