As we have mentioned, workers’ compensation laws vary widely from State to State, making the selection of which workers’ compensation laws apply to a given case a critical determination. As much as there are things in PA law that benefit the workers’ comp insurance carrier, many aspects of Pennsylvania law are more beneficial to an injured worker than the laws of other States. One would think that Pennsylvania law would apply to an employee who primarily works in PA and was injured in PA. One may be wrong.
In Salvadori v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund and Farmers Propane, Inc.), the injured worker was a truck driver for a company based in Ohio. The job performed by the injured worker, however, was primarily in the State of Pennsylvania. Indeed, the injury took place in PA, when his truck was rammed by another truck at a rest stop. The injured worker suffered serious injuries including “a right shoulder rotator cuff tear, injury to the anterior chest wall, and disc herniations in his neck and low back.” The injured worker also experienced a concussion. As a result of these conditions, the injured worker was disabled from his job.
Since he worked primarily in PA, and was injured in PA, there is (clearly) jurisdiction in Pennsylvania for the injury. Therefore, he filed a Claim Petition for benefits in PA. When his employer was discovered to not carry workers’ compensation insurance in PA, the injured worker filed a Claim against the Uninsured Employers’ Guaranty Fund (UEGF). The injured worker testified and presented medical evidence. Neither the Employer, nor the UEGF, presented any contradictory evidence. As such, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted both the Claim Petition against the Employer, as well as the one against the UEGF.
Upon appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) affirmed the granting of the Claim Petition against the Employer, but reversed the granting of the Claim Petition against the UEGF (finding that benefits can only be obtained through the UEGF when there is no other source of benefits and here, a claim could have been made under Ohio workers’ compensation law (where the Employer has insurance).
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the decision of the WCAB, finding that the injured worker could have obtained benefits from the State of Ohio, making a claim against the UEGF not proper. That only medical benefits were paid under Ohio law, and there was no finding by anyone (as far as this author can tell) that wage loss benefits were available to the injured worker (if they were available, one could ask, why weren’t they being paid), this seems an odd conclusion. The Court failed to address that they have effectively stripped away the rights every other employee injured in PA has, for the sole reason that the Employer failed to carry proper insurance. One could conclude that the injured worker is being punished for the sins of his Employer. Having seen many things over the last 24 years practicing in PA workers’ comp, I don’t always expect fairness. This result, however, seems more absurd than most. Of course, we recognize the need to protect the limited assets of the UEGF, but, to have real meaning, the UEGF must provide benefits to an employee negatively impacted by his or her employer’s failure to carry workers’ comp insurance. No matter how one views this case, this employee was negatively impacted and was in no way at fault.