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Caregiver mother stabbed by son due workers comp benefits: Court


A woman who was stabbed in her sleep by her adult son while working as his caregiver should receive workers compensation benefits for her injuries, a Pennsylvania court ruled Wednesday.

Joshua Gartland “had significant health issues resulting from a long history of drug problems” and had one of his legs amputated in 2007, court records show. Laura O'Rourke, Mr. Gartland's mother, began providing full-time attendant care for her son at her home in 2008 in exchange for an hourly wage paid by Pennsylvania's Department of Welfare.

In April 2009, Mr. Gartland cut Ms. O'Rourke's throat with a butcher knife and stabbed her three times while she was sleeping in her bed, records show. He ultimately pleaded guilty to attempted homicide, simple assault, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment of another person, and criminal court records show he was sentenced in 2010 to serve 12 to 25 years in prison.

Ms. O'Rourke filed a petition for workers comp benefits against Mr. Gartland and the Pennsylvania State Workers' Insurance Fund, saying that the attack caused a loss of function in her left arm, soft tissue injuries and psychological injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder that has left her unable to work.

A workers compensation judge awarded comp benefits to Ms. O'Rourke, records show. While defense witnesses said that Ms. O'Rourke wasn't contracted to provide 24/7 care to Mr. Gartland — and therefore wouldn't have been working while she was asleep before the attack — the judge found that Ms. O'Rourke's living situation with her son “required her to be on the employer's premises at the time that she sustained her injuries.”


However, the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Appeal Board reversed that ruling, finding that Ms. O'Rourke was not engaged in the “furtherance of (Mr. Gartland's) business or affairs” at the time she was attacked, records show. Ms. O'Rourke appealed.

In a 6-1 decision Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court found that Ms. O'Rourke's injuries were work-related and that she should receive workers comp benefits.

The majority found that Ms. O'Rourke could be considered to be in the course of employment while sleeping, even though she was not actively working for her son when she was attacked, because the nature of her job required her to be on the premises of her home.

“Given the demands of (Ms. O'Rourke's) job duties as a health care provider and the hours of her employment, combined with the fact that (Mr. Gartland) did not have his own residence or anywhere in which to receive attendant care, we conclude that the (workers comp judge's) findings establish that, at the very least, (Ms. O'Rourke) was 'practically required' by the nature of her employment to live with” her son, the majority opinion reads.

In her dissent, Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter said she did not agree that Ms. O'Rourke's injuries were work-related.

“In the middle of the night, a young man stabbed his mother with a butcher knife while she lay sleeping in her own bed, in her own home. I believe it defies logic to call this a work-related injury,” Judge Leadbetter's dissent reads.