PA Workers’ Comp Benefits Can Only be Stopped After Conviction – Incarceration Alone Insufficient

Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, an insurance carrier can stop paying benefits to an injured worker who is “incarcerated after a conviction.” The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recently emphasized that there must be a conviction before workers’ compensation benefits can be suspended.

In Rogele Inc.v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Mattson), which the Court decided on April 2, 2009, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) assessed penalties against the workers’ comp insurance carrier, after the carrier stopped paying benefits to the injured worker. In that case, the injured worker was in jail, in the process of pleading guilty to a felony which was to entail significant jail time. At the time benefits were stopped, however, there had been no conviction.

The Court affirmed the decision of the WCJ, finding that in PA, as anywhere in the United States, one is innocent until proven guilty. Whether one later pleads guilty is irrelevant. The plain language in the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act requires the claimant be “incarcerated after a conviction.”

The Court rejected the workers’ comp insurance carrier’s argument that the incarceration caused the injured worker to intentionally, or voluntarily, remove himself from the work force. Again, until there is a conviction, even if it results from a guilty plea, everyone is innocent.