The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently weighed in on the case of Lancaster General Hospital v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Weber-Brown). As our loyal readers may recall, back in 2009, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania granted “specific loss” benefits for the loss of an eye in 2007, despite the onset around 1980, and used the injured worker’s wages in 2007 (with a different employer) on which to base the Average Weekly Wage (AWW).
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the Employer did not argue whether the date of injury was properly in 2007 (when the injured worker was told she had lost her eye for all practical intents and purposes) rather than 1980 (when the injured worker was exposed to herpes simplex virus). Instead, the main thrust of the Employer’s argument was that the AWW should be based on her wages with Employer (whom the injured worker was last employed by in 1985), rather than based on her wages for a different employer in 2007.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, holding that the AWW was properly based on the wages earned by the injured worker in 2007, regardless of the fact the injured worker was no longer working for Employer. The Court first noted that the PA Workers’ Compensation Act is “intended to benefit the injured employee, and, therefore, must be construed liberally in the employee’s favor in order to effectuate the Act’s humanitarian objectives,” the Court then added, “As such, borderline interpretations are to be decided in favor of the claimant.”
In then looking at the actual language of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, in Section 309, the Court reasoned that the term “employer” is not meant to be limited to the employer who is responsible for the payment of the workers’ compensation benefits. Instead, the Act is designed to reflect the economic reality of the injured worker’s situation. The Act, said the Court, must be construed to mean the employer at the time of the injury. Since the injury here was found to take place in 2007, when the eye was lost, the wages should be determined by looking at the earnings of the injured worker in 2007 (regardless for whom the injured worker was then employed).