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Commonwealth Court Determines That Injured Worker Should Receive Consecutive Payments for Multiple Injuries Stemming From the Same Accident

Injuries from any accident can become complicated.  The best-case scenario is for the worst of the injury to occur nearly immediately after the accident, and then after treatment and healing, you return to life as it was before the accident.  Other injuries can not only take extensive time to heal, result in life-long physical disability.  Some may even worsen over time.  Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation program takes these various types of injury and recovery scenarios into consideration, allowing reviews and modifications to an injured workers’ benefits.

In Fields v. City of Philadelphia a prison guard was injured while attempting to restrain an inmate.  She sustained injuries to her shoulder, arm, and wrist and received weekly disability benefits in the amount of $450.59 a week.  Three years after the accident, the workers’ compensation judge (WCJ) allowed a review and she added a partial tear of the left rotator cuff, left brachial plexus traction injury, and reflex sympathetic dystrophy of the upper left arm as part of the work injuries. The petition was granted two years after, and the injured guard was awarded 410 weeks of  for the loss of her left arm from the date the review was filed (three years after the accident).  An additional 20 week healing period was also awarded. 

Another petition was filed after the first review was awarded, five years after the initial accident, for loss of her lower right leg and/or right foot and left leg.  In the next year the WCJ found that the injuries sustained in the accident six years prior also resulted in loss of the left arm and both legs.  410 weeks of were awarded for the right leg, 410 weeks for the left leg, and a 25-week healing period.  Credit was given to the city for the payment of weekly benefits paid through the date of the decision.  Two years after, the injured guard petitioned for a third review, stating she needed a personal care attendant and modifications to her home and vehicle as a result of the injuries.  She also claimed the city unilaterally reduced her payments.  The city had been paying a weekly benefit amount of $1351.77 following the reviews, but reduced the payments to $450.59 and continued to pay that amount.

The WCJ awarded the amount for the personal care attendant, but not for the modifications to the home and vehicle, and denied the penalty petition regarding the payment reduction by the city.  The WCJ concluded that with multiple specific losses, the injured could elect specific loss benefits rather than indemnity benefits for the total disability, but could not receive the multiple benefits at the same time.  Even though the city initially elected to pay all the benefits at the same time, they were not required to continue with this payment.  The WCJ ruled that the city had to pay 1210 total weeks of loss benefits, in addition to a 25 week healing period, in weekly consecutive installments.

The Commonwealth Court looked at the prior case law that determined the ideal payment schedule is for regular income installments over a long period.  The court also considered Pennsylvania statutory law, that considers the loss of both hands, both arms, both feet, both legs, or both eyes as total disability.  A previous presidential decision by the Supreme Court held that the injured in that case should be afforded the highest possible compensation for his total disability, but that the Workers’ Compensation Board has the discretion to determine what the optimum benefit would be under the statutory scheme.  The Commonwealth Court ultimately agreed with the city, citing the legislative intent and case law, that benefits stemming from one accident should be paid consecutively to maintain income, and should only be accelerated upon an approved review in rare circumstances.

The Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorneys at Needle Law Firm have the experience and knowledge you need to maximize your benefits.  Call today for a free consultation at 570-344-1266.

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