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Injured worker who had just quit wins appeal for workers comp

Injured worker who had just quit wins appeal for workers comp

A Pennsylvania health care firm must pay workers compensation benefits to a former employee who was injured shortly after resigning from his job, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled Monday.

Paul Marazas was a driver technician for Miami-based Vitas Healthcare Corp. and delivered medical equipment and furniture in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, court records show.

Mr. Marazas showed up for work to receive his daily itinerary after having been on-call the prior weekend, according to court filings. Mr. Marazas asked his manager to remove stops from the list, which would have taken him until midnight to complete, because he was tired from being on-call.

The manager refused Mr. Marazas' request, and Mr. Marazas quit after telling the manager that he could not work under his current conditions, records show. He turned in his keys and phone, and the manager told Mr. Marazas that she would escort him to remove personal belongings from a Vitas truck.

After removing items from the truck, Mr. Marazas tripped over a pallet jack on the Vitas premises, according to records. Mr. Marazas injured his left side in the fall, which was witnessed by the Vitas manager.

Mr. Marazas called the manager a few days later to request a physician referral but was told that Vitas only provides physicians for active employees, records show. He then filed a civil suit in Delaware County, Pennsylvania court in 2007 seeking liability damages for his fall.

Vitas argued that Mr. Marazas was working at the time of his injury, and therefore workers comp was the exclusive remedy for his injuries, filings show. Mr. Marazas then withdrew his lawsuit and filed a workers comp claim for injuries to his left ankle, left knee and back.

A Pennsylvania workers comp judge awarded benefits to Mr. Marazas for a period of November 2005 to July 2008, based largely on the fact that the Vitas manager witnessed Mr. Marazas' fall, records show. Vitas appealed, arguing that Mr. Marazas' injuries weren't covered under workers comp because he had terminated his employment prior to the fall.

The Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Board vacated the workers comp judge's ruling and remanded the case to determine whether Mr. Marazas' fall happened during the course of employment, records show. On remand, the workers comp judge found again that Mr. Marazas was injured while working because Vitas “had directed him to go and perform a requested task.”

Vitas appealed again, and the Pennsylvania workers comp board reversed the judge's decision, records show. In the second ruling, the board found Mr. Marazas' injuries were not compensable because he quit before he fell. Mr. Marazas appealed.

A three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court unanimously ruled Monday that Mr. Marazas should receive workers comp benefits. In its decision, the court said Vitas presented inconsistent arguments when it said that workers comp was the exclusive remedy for Mr. Marazas under his civil suit, but then claimed Mr. Marazas' resignation prevented him from being considered an employee for workers comp purposes.

The appellate court also found that employment termination doesn't bar workers comp benefits when a worker is acting under an employer's direction on the employer's premises.

“Although (Mr. Marazas) quit before he was injured, he was still within the scope of employment because he was acting at (Vitas') direction, and thus furthering (Vitas') interests,” the ruling reads.

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