eNotes: Workers’ Compensation – November 2023 – Pennsylvania
November 16, 2023
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
Pennsylvania Case Summaries
Keffer v. Colfax Corp. (WCAB)
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
No. 1110 C.D. 2022
Decided: August 11, 2023
An employer is not obligated to notify a claimant of the date upon which the three-year statute of repose will expire.
The Claimant sustained a work injury on December 18, 2014. The Employer temporarily accepted the claim via Notice of Temporary Compensation Payable, and paid disability until the Claimant returned to full duty work on March 9, 2015. At that time, the Employer issued a Notice Stopping Temporary Compensation and a Medical Only Notice of Compensation Payable. The Claimant’s injury recurred in 2017, and on April 11, 2018, the Claimant underwent surgery. The parties executed a Supplemental Agreement to pay total disability. Once the Claimant returned to work with no loss of earnings, the parties executed a new Supplemental Agreement. On May 14, 2021, the Claimant filed a Reinstatement Petition and a Review Petition. The Workers’ Compensation Judge found that the Claimant’s petitions were time barred by the statute of repose in Section 413(a) of the Act. The judge found the statute had expired even before the parties executed the Supplemental Agreements. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board Affirmed.
The Commonwealth Court affirmed. The Court held that the Employer was under no legal obligation to notify the Claimant that the statute of repose would expire three years after he stopped receiving wage loss benefits. The Court rejected the Claimant’s equitable estoppel argument along similar lines because silence and inaction, alone, are insufficient. The Employer filed a petition with the Commonwealth Court to publish the opinion, which the Court granted.
This case, now a published and precedential opinion, reaffirms that Section 413 of the Act is a statute of repose that totally extinguishes a claimant’s right to seek wage loss benefits. Even a subsequent Supplemental Agreement does not resurrect this right. The Employer is under no obligation to inform the claimant of the date upon which the statute of repose will expire. This case was litigated by Burke McLemore of Thomas, Thomas & Hafer.
Dunetz v. Charles H. Sacks D.M.D., P.C (WCAB)
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
No. 302 C.D. 2022
Decided: October 26, 2023
While Act 111 applies retroactively per the language of the statute, Protz generally will only retroactively apply to cases pending appeal at the time Protz was decided.
The timeline of events is as follows: The Claimant sustained a work injury in 2007 and received total disability benefits. He underwent an Impairment Rating Evaluation (IRE) on December 10, 2010, which determined him to be 8% impaired. As a result of this IRE, the Claimant’s benefits were modified to partial status. Protz was decided in 2017 and found the IRE process unconstitutional. In 2018, Pennsylvania passed Act 111, which restored the IRE process. Since the 2010 IRE occurred before Protz and was thus void, the Claimant filed a Reinstatement Petition on June 12, 2020, seeking to have his benefits reinstated to total as of the date of the void 2010 IRE. The 500 weeks of partial disability payments expired on July 2, 2020. A second IRE occurred on December 15, 2020, which determined the Claimant to be 17% impaired, prompting the Employer to file a Modification Petition. The WCJ granted reinstatement as of the date of filing, not as of the prior IRE. The WCJ also granted the Modification Petition, thereby granting the Employer a credit for having paid 500 weeks of partial disability, which in turn ended the Claimant’s entitlement to indemnity benefits.
The Claimant argued that Protz should apply retroactively so that his total disability status should have been reinstated as of the void 2010 IRE, which would have restarted the 500 week clock as of the 2020 IRE. He also argued that Act 111 cannot be applied retroactively to count the weeks of partial disability payments against Claimants who began receiving benefits prior to the passage of Act 111. The Commonwealth Court cited Dana Holding, where it determined that a holding of the Commonwealth Court that a statute is unconstitutional will generally only be applied to cases pending on direct appeal as of the date of decision, assuming the constitutional challenge had been raised and preserved. Dana Holding did not exclude the possibility of retroactive application using an equitable balancing test for extraordinary cases. Here, the Claimant’s case was not pending appeal when Protz was decided, and his case was not extraordinary so as to deviate from the default approach against retroactivity. Specifically, his ongoing disability and financial need were unfortunate, but not extraordinary. Lastly, the text of Act 111 unambiguously calls for retroactive application, so there was no error in granting the Employer a credit for the 500 weeks of partial disability it already paid.
Absent extraordinary circumstances, courts will only retroactively apply Protz to cases that were pending appeal at the time Protz was decided. On the contrary, Act 111 specifically grants Employers a credit for TPD payments made before that statute’s enactment.
Questions about this case can be directed to Cailey Farinaro at (610) 332-7008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mercy Catholic Medical Center v. Ryan (WCAB)
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
No. 554 C.D. 2022
Decided: October 16, 2023
The Employer was permitted to present evidence of causation because the issue of causation is a legal conclusion that cannot be deemed admitted by the filing of a late answer.
The Claimant suffered a right shoulder injury while working as a nursing aide, and her Employer accepted the injury as work-related. After the Employer offered a light-duty position that exacerbated the Claimant’s anxiety, she was terminated when she could not perform the job. The Claimant filed a Claim Petition seeking ongoing disability benefits, alleging aggravation of her preexisting anxiety and depression. The Employer filed a late Answer, and the Claimant moved for the allegations in her Claim Petition to be deemed admitted by operation of law. The WCJ initially denied her claim, but the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board reversed the WCJ’s decision, finding her claims well-pleaded.
The key issue was whether the Employer’s late answer to the Claim Petition resulted in a deemed admission of all well-pleaded facts, including those related to the aggravation of the Claimant’s preexisting anxiety and depression. The Workers’ Compensation Act specifies that a late answer deems the admission of well-pleaded facts, but the Court clarified that not all facts are well-pleaded. While certain facts must be admitted, the legal relationship between an injury and employment, especially causation, requires a legal determination and cannot be established by default. Therefore, the Court concluded that the portion of the Claim Petition related to the aggravation of preexisting conditions was not well-pleaded, allowing the Employer to offer evidence on that issue.
While a late answer deems the admission of well-pleaded facts, the legal relationship between an injury and employment requires a legal determination and cannot be established by default.
Questions about this case can be directed to Matt Mangapora at (412) 926-1437 or email@example.com.