eNotes: Workers’ Compensation – August 2022 – Pennsylvania
August 24, 2022
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
PA CASE SUMMARY
Ralph Martin Construction and Lackawanna American Insurance Co., v. Miguel Castaneda-Escobar (WCAB)
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
No. 341 C.D. 2021
Decided: August 1, 2022
While the Act requires payment for orthopedic appliances, an employer is not obligated to contribute to the purchase of a new home, even if the cost of purchase is equal to the cost of renovating the current home.
Claimant sustained a work-related injury when he fell off a roof, and was rendered a paraplegic. Employer accepted liability for the claim. At the time of the injury, Mr. Castaneda-Escobar was residing in his brother’s row house where the bedrooms and bathroom are located on the second floor. A design and reconstruction firm estimated that the cost to modify the row house to add a first floor bedroom and bathroom would cost $119,722.21. It suggested that it might be more cost effective to relocate to a single floor residence. Modifications on the row house were never performed. Instead, Claimant purchased a home that could accommodate his needs, for $230,000. That subsequent house required $5,905.04 for wheelchair access, and the Employer covered the $5,905.04. Claimant sought coverage for either of the purchase of the new home, or the estimated cost of renovating it.
The WCJ held that the Employer was not liable to reimburse for either the new home or the estimated cost to renovate the old home. However, the WCJ did find Employer liable for the closing costs incurred, reasoning that by purchasing a new home, Employer was relieved of the obligation to modify the row house. Both parties appealed.
The Commonwealth Court agreed with Employer, holding that the purchase of a new home extends the phrase “orthopedic appliance” beyond a reasonable interpretation. The Employer was liable for the renovations to the new home, which were voluntarily paid, but not liable for the portion of the purchase price of the new home equal to the prior renovation estimate. Even further, the Commonwealth Court reversed the finding that the Employer was not liable for closing costs or litigation costs.
There was no discussion about the decision to purchase a new home versus renovate, nor to the reasonableness of the cost of the home or the estimate. It is unclear if the Court would have decided the other way if there was such testimony. However, it is good to see that the Court refused to expand Section 306(f.1)(1)(ii) any further.
Questions about this case can be directed to (717) 237-7100.