When a violation of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act takes place, the proper avenue of relief is to file a Petition for Penalties. This Petition allows a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) to assess a penalty of up to 50% of the benefits at issue. Typically, this is filed by an injured worker against the workers’ comp insurance carrier. Common violations include a delayed payment of wage loss benefits, or a refusal to pay for medical treatment related to the work injury.
Until recently, there was no clear answer as to whether a Petition for Penalties could be filed BY a workers’ compensation insurance carrier AGAINST an injured worker. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has now answered this question in Yespelkis v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Pulmonology Associates Inc.). The answer is simply, yes, a Penalty Petition can be filed against a claimant in a workers’ comp case.
However, importantly, while a WCJ can assess a penalty against a workers’ compensation insurance carrier of up to 50% of the benefits at issue, the WCJ is limited to assessing a penalty of a forfeiture of interest against an injured worker. This, the Court said, is consistent with the language of the PA Workers’ Compensation Act.
Interestingly, the Court reversed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) and remanded the case to the WCJ, to determine whether unreasonable contest attorney fees should be assessed against the workers’ comp insurance carrier. Though filing a Petition for Penalties against a claimant is not unreasonable as a matter of law, as with any petition filed by the carrier, if there was not a sufficient basis upon which to file the petition, counsel fees are to be assessed.