The Bunkhouse Rule Revisited

By: Sandra Weigel Kokal

In an earlier blog, it was discussed that the “Bunkhouse Rule” from 1924 was revived in a 2014 workers’ compensation case. The “bunkhouse rule” provides that, if an employee is required to live on the employer’s premises, the employee should be compensated for injuries that might happen during the employee’s leisure time on the employer’s property.

In the 2014 case that revived this rule, a mother was employed as a health care worker for her adult son under a state funded program. The mother provided attendant care for her son at her home in exchange for hourly wages. The son needed care due to significant medical issues, including the amputation of his leg. The mother worked 40 hours Monday thru Friday and 12 hours per day on Saturday and Sundays. While the mother was sleeping one evening, the son came into her bedroom and attacked her with a kitchen knife. She suffered serious physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the attack.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge awarded her workers’ compensation benefits. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the award of benefits invoking the “bunkhouse rule.” Now, a divided Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has disagreed. The majority of the Supreme Court reversed the award of benefits stating that the mother had not shown her injuries were within the type of harm the Legislature intended to provide compensation for under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

The Supreme Court agreed with the dissenting Judge on the Commonwealth Court who had stated it “defied logic” to find that this case involved a work related injury. The Supreme Court acknowledged the remedial nature of the Workers’ Compensation Act which is intended to benefit workers, but stated the Act was not intended to make the employer an “insurer of its employees’ lives and health.” So since, the mother was sleeping when she was attacked by her son, her injuries were not sustained in the course of her employment.



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