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A gas station manager who eventually died from injuries he suffered while trying to stop a robber was acting within the course and scope of his employment and should have received workers compensation benefits prior to his death, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has ruled.
Walter Wetzel, the night manager at Parkway Service Station in Pittsburgh, chased a robber who attempted to take money out of the station’s cash register around 8 p.m. Nov. 28, 2009, court records show. Eyewitnesses said Mr. Wetzel ended up getting dragged underneath the robber’s car.
A claim petition filed in January 2010 alleged that, as a result of the accident, Mr. Wetzel sustained “a work-related severe traumatic brain injury, which rendered him comatose and permanently disabled and incapacitated.” Records show that Mr. Wetzel remained in a coma for about four months before he died on April 2, 2010.
A workers comp judge awarded benefits from Nov. 28, 2009, to April 2, 2010, to Mr. Wetzel’s estate, according to records. No medical or burial expenses were awarded.
The employer appealed, arguing that at the time Mr. Wetzel was injured, “he had embarked on a vigilante mission to apprehend the fleeing suspect,” records show. The employer also said that, two weeks prior, he instructed his employees, including Mr. Wetzel, “not to be heroes by resisting robbery attempts.”
Records show that the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board found that Mr. Wetzel was not acting within the course and scope of his employment when he was injured while attempting to stop the robber, saying, “We cannot agree that the duties of a convenience store manager include the pursuit and apprehension of criminal suspects.”
Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer reversed the board’s decision on Tuesday, stating that Mr. Wetzel’s “pursuit of the thief was not, as employer argues, so far removed from his job duties as employer’s store manager as to constitute abandonment of ‘the course of his employment.’”