State Trooper Cannot Sue Department Of Transportation For On-The-Job Injuries

Virtually all workers’ compensation statutes have “exclusivity” provisions, sometimes referred to as “workers’ compensation bars.” These provisions bar employees from bringing lawsuits against their employers for on-the-job injuries, and limit employees to the benefits available under workers’ compensation systems. Exclusivity provisions, which favor employers, are generally thought to be a trade-off for the fact that workers’ compensation laws do not require employees to prove an employer’s fault or negligence before recovering workers’ compensation benefits.

An interesting question as to how far exclusivity provisions extend arose in the case of Gerald Kincel, a Pennsylvania state trooper who was investigating the scene of a motor vehicle accident when part of the roadway collapsed and he fell into a hole. Kincel sued the State’s Department of Transportation, which was aware of the dangerous conditions at least eight weeks prior to Kincel’s accident.

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court found that the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation exclusivity provision barred Kincel’s suit.

The Court found that the exclusivity provision applied to all departments of the State, not just Kincel’s direct employer, the Pennsylvania State Police: “While it may be true that Kincel is not assigned to the DOT, the real issue is whether Kincel is an employee of the Commonwealth. The State established that (1) all State Troopers are paid by the Commonwealth and receive a paycheck drawn from the State Treasury, signed by the State Treasurer; (2) all State Troopers receive a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Employee Pay Statement; (3) the Commonwealth provides medical benefits and life insurance for State Troopers and pays their employment taxes; (4) a pension from the State Employee Retirement System is provided to all State Troopers; (5) workers’ compensation coverage and Heart and Lung Act disability benefits are provided to State Troopers by the Commonwealth; (6) State Troopers work under a collective bargaining agreement between their union and the Commonwealth. It is beyond peradventure that all State Troopers, including Kincel, are employees of the Commonwealth who ultimately serve at the behest of the Governor.”

Kincel v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 2005 WL 293215 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2005).

This article appears in the May 2005 issue