Clark Summit State Hospital Employees Workers’ Compensation

January 25, 2014

If you are an employee of the Clark Summit State Hospital then you get special protection under the Pa. Workers’ Compensation laws. There is a special law known as “Act 534″ and it protects employees injured by people committed to the Clark Summit State mental hospital.

Act 534 says that any employee of a State mental hospital or Youth Development Center under the Department of Public Welfare, who is injured on the job by someone confined to the institution or by any person who has been committed to such institution shall be paid, by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, his full salary, until the disability from the injury no longer prevents his or her return as an employee of such department.

The difference with Act 534 is that you are paid a salary equal to that earned at the time of your injury.

This is different from “regular” workers compensation in Pennsylvania. Most employees get only about 66 percent of their wages in workers compensation. But under Act 534, you are allowed to be paid your full salary if you are injured by someone committed to the state hospital.

Act 534 benefits are also handled by different Judges usually with the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals in Harrisburg, not the Workers Compensation Judges that handle “typical” work-related injuries.

All state mental hospital employees should be aware of this special law if they are injured on the job.

 


How Much Workers Compensation Will I Get?

January 25, 2014

This is a complicated question but basically you need to determine your average weekly wage. In most cases, your average weekly wage is found by looking at your total wages for the 12 months before your work injury. Your total wages for the 12 months before your work injury is then split into four quarters. You then add up each quarter. Take the three highest quarters of wages, add them together,  and divide by three to get an average. In most cases that will be your average weekly wage. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. And this is not how much workers compensation you will be paid. You need to then look at a chart that is from the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Most of the time (but not always) your weekly workers compensation benefits will be two-thirds (or about 66 percent) of your pre-injury, average weekly wage. There are a lot of cases that discuss how the average weekly wage is calculated.


Sitting Around Kills Your Brain

January 24, 2014

The New York Times posted an interesting article today about how a sedentary life changes your brain. You can find the article here.

I have seen so many people on workers compensation in Pennsylvania literally lose their minds after they are on workers comp wage loss benefits for too long. Especially men. They do not seem to be able to mentally handle being out of work for long periods of time. In addition to dealing with the stress of their work injury (treatment, doctors, lawyers hearings etc) they are also dealing with the loss of their ability to put food on the table. Women appear to be able to handle this better than men, but in my opinion, both sexes have a very hard time mentally and physically being out of work for extended periods and being physically inactive.

Something to think about when you are injured in a work-related accident in Pennsylvania.


Notice of Ability to Return to Work Explained.

January 13, 2014

This is a video that I did a while back explaining a Notice of Ability to Return to Work under the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system. Hope you enjoy this video and keep in mind this applies to workers’ compensation claims in Pennsylvania.

Notice of Ability to Return to Work


Rules of Civil Procedure Not Applicable to Workers’ Comp Cases

August 28, 2013

The Pa. Commonwealth Court (our intermediary court here in Pennsylvania) has decided that the Rules of Civil Procedure do not apply to workers’ compensation cases. I know that some workers compensation lawyers have a chip on their collective shoulders the size of the Workers Compensation Act already, and we have generally felt inferior to those who practice in the “real” courts of common pleas (even though we do more medical depositions and have more actual court time that most other lawyers), but now our intermediate appellate court tells us not to worry about the Pa. Rules of Civil Procedure.

According to the Court: “Claimant’s reliance on the Rules of Civil Procedure is misplaced because those rules do not govern workers’ compensation proceedings.” I always thought that the Rules of Civil Procedure could be used as some guidance to the lawyers who handle the lowly workers compensation case, but, alas, I was mistaken (silly comp lawyer).

Now, all we need to do is look to the Special Rules of Administrative Practice and Procedure Before Workers’ Compensation Judges, 34 Pa. Code §§131.1-131.122. The system calls them the “Special Rules.” And yes, it is true, attorneys who handle workers compensation cases are special. And we have our special rules that only apply to us and no one else. So rest easy now fellow comp lawyers. We don’t need to worry about those darn complicated Rules of Civil procedure according to the Commonwealth Court.

The decision is found here on Google Scholar:

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=295622124820458014&hl=en&lr=lang_en&as_sdt=4,39&as_vis=1


Offer Letter Not a Binding Employment Contract

June 3, 2013

At least when the offer letters says that you also must sign the actual employment contract on your first day. The Pa. Supreme Court determined that a job offer letter is not a binding contract when the letter says that you must also sign a restrictive covenant on your first day on the job.

In Pulse Technologies v. Notaro the Court said that a simple job offer letter is not a contract when it states that the employee must sign the actual employment contract on day one.

This would appear to be obvious, but it went all the way to the Pa. Supreme Court….


Is proof of MMI required before IRE can be requested.

May 24, 2013

The Commonwealth Court on May 7, 2013 said it did not have jurisdiction to consider an Order forcing a claimant to attend an IRE. The Court said such an order is interlocutory, which in human speak means that it can’t be appealed. That is the boring part of the case. What’s actually interesting is what the WCJ did when employer requested an IRE. The Judge said that the employer had to first show independent proof that claimant was at MMI. The Judge said Combine v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp.), 954 A.2d 776 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008), appeal denied, 600 Pa. 765, 967 A.2d 961 (2009), and section 306(a.2) of the Act require proof of MMI before the employer can request an IRE. The Appeal Board disagreed and said proof of MMI is not required first before asking claimant to go to an IRE. The Commonwealth Court said it could not look at this issue because an Order compelling claimant to attend an IRE is interlocutory.

So, does an employer need to first show that claimant is at MMI before the employer can force claimant to attend an IRE?

Carter v. WCAB (GenCorp Inc.) (opinion not reported)


Employers can prevent Employees from suing third parties

May 24, 2013

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that employers can indeed prevent employees from suing third parties. You typically see this situation in setting where someone works for an employment agency and the agency places that employee with a third party customer. Well in Bowman v. Sunoco that is exactly what happened.

Sabrina Bowman worked as a security guard for a company called Allied Barton Security Services. She signed an employment contract with Allied Barton that said she agreed she would not sue her employer’s cuspomers for negligence. And, as luck would have it, she was placed as a security guard with Sunoco and was injured. She then sued Sunoco for her injuries, and they got a good lawyer who discovered the employment contract (which said she could not sue Sunoco). The lawyer asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit and the case was dismissed.

Why does that matter at all? What’s the problem you might ask? Well, there is a section of the Workers’ Compensation Act that says all agreements or “release of damages” that ask any employee to give up her right to sue for injuries are invalid and against “public policy.” According to the Workers’ Compensation Act whenever an employer asks an employee to sign any agreement that limits an employee’s right to sue then that agreement is invalid.

The Supreme Court said that this section of the Workers’ Compensation Act only applies to workers’ compensation benefits, and it does not stop an employer from asking an employee to sign an agreement that the employee will not sue the employer’s customers for injuries.

What I find interesting is that one has to wonder if the employer is shooting itself in the foot. The employer has a right to recover most of the workers’ compensation benefits that it has paid to its employee from the third party. As we all know, that could be a lot of money, sometimes close to a half a million dollars in some cases. When the employer tells its employee after a work injury that he cannot sue the party responsible for the injury, isn’t the employer giving up its subrogation rights?


Serious Drug Abuse in Workers’ Comp Cases

May 24, 2013

A national insurance journal has published a report that finds the epidemic of opioid abuse is even worse when the user is receiving workers’ compensation benefits. In my own workers’ compensation practice I do find claimants and injured workers who appear to be taking very serious opioid based drus such as Opana, a drug that is made for and usually prescribed for people suffering from terminal cancer. I have had several cases where the claimant alleges that his prescription drug usage has caused liver problems.

You can find the article from the Insurance Journal here.

Pennsylvania, where I practice law, is one of the worst states according to the article for opioid drug usage in work related claims.