HARRISBURG - A Bucks County liquor store manager will receive full benefits and back pay after the state Commonwealth Court ruled he was eligible for Workers' Compensation stemming from the mental trauma he suffered during a gunpoint robbery in April 2008.
The decision reverses the Commonwealth Court's 2011 ruling against Greg Kochanowicz, which was vacated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania earlier this year. The high court's decision was based upon a ruling in Payes v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, a similar case in 2013 in which a state trooper applied for benefits after he struck and killed a pedestrian who intentionally ran in front of his car.
While the court noted that “normal” working conditions for those in law enforcement included accidents, bodily injuries and death, in that particular instance, “a mentally disturbed individual running in front of a Trooper’s vehicle…for no apparent reason…[is] extraordinary and unusual,” and, as an abnormal working condition, was compensable.
"Notwithstanding the training and other occurrences regarding fatal automobile accidents, our Supreme Court held that the incident that caused the claimant's PTSD was 'a singular extraordinary event' for this particular trooper and, therefore, that incident constituted an abnormal working condition," said Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer, who wrote the court's unanimous opinion.
"Our Supreme Court indicated that the employer's evidence that another 'state trooper had once struck a pedestrian [did] not make the incident here a 'normal' working condition' as '[a]bnormal working conditions need not be 'unique' working conditions.'"
Kochanowicz, manager of a liquor store in Morrisville, had worked for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (LCB) for approximately 30 years when the store was robbed at gunpoint in April of 2008. During the robbery, Kochanowicz had a gun pointed at him and prodded against the back of his head, was verbally threatened and bound with duct tape. Unable to return to work, he filed for total disability benefits, which were initially awarded.
However, in 2011, the LCB appealed his claim and the Commonwealth Court halted the benefits, saying that Kochanowicz, having attended training and given pamphlets on the handling of a robbery, should have been prepared and that a robbery was “normal” for the job.
Kochanowicz appealed to the state Supreme Court, which vacated the Commonwealth Court’s decision in February, restoring wage benefits. That decision compelled the lower court to convene and issue an entirely new ruling.
When the state Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s decision, Kochanowicz’s wage benefits were restored and he was awarded back pay. This decision not only affirms those benefits, but also awards medical benefits for continuing the psychological treatments he initiated one day after the robbery (to date exceeding $25,000).
“This is a retail job,” said Kochanowick's attorney, Al Carlson. “Not law enforcement, not armed forces, and [Greg] continues to suffer the consequences of a single traumatic, terrifying and life-threatening moment. Fortunately, he now has the support he needs to heal, both monetary and in the court’s significant recognition of the injury.”
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