Brookhaven Baptist Church v. Workers Compensation Appeal Board, 2006 WL 3798180 (Pa. 2006)
Background. Most churches utilize volunteers to perform a variety of routine maintenance tasks, including cleaning, snow and ice removal, painting, roof repair, and grass cutting. If a church member is injured while performing such tasks, is the injury compensable under the state's workers compensation law? If so, what are the consequences to the church? These are important issues that were addressed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a recent case.
Facts. An elderly man (Burt) and his wife began attending a small church. Because contributions were meager, church members performed most church maintenance. The church constitution designated the board of trustees as the persons responsible for "maintenance and protection of church building, grounds, furnishings and equipment." These duties were carried out on a voluntary basis. The single exception to the obligations of the board was that the church paid to have the grass cut on its 1.5-acre property. The trustees completed all other grounds maintenance, such as edging the lawn, planting flowers, and pruning the shrubs and trees.
Burt and his wife became members of the church, and a short time later Burt was appointed a church trustee. As a trustee, he performed various maintenance duties for the church such as painting the men's bathroom, changing light bulbs, vacuuming rugs, washing windows, cleaning restrooms, and other chores. He also began cutting grass on church property for $25 per week using a tractor and gasoline provided by the church.