Pension Offset in PA Workers’ Comp Denied Without Evidence

Not very long ago, this blog expressed our disappointment with the decision rendered by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Glaze v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (City of Pittsburgh), where the Court remanded to the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) for the WCJ to find some amount of a credit for pension payments, despite the employer’s failure to present credible evidence to the WCJ initially. As we expressed in our blog entry, a party who fails to sustain its burden of proof in a PA workers’ compensation case should not prevail.

We are now happy, though a bit confused, to report what appears to be a contradictory decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in the case of United Airlines v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Gane). Here, the claimant suffered a severe injury described as “pain disorder, dysthemic disorder, herniated discs at C3-4 and C4-5, rotator cuff impingement on the left side with aggravation and protruding disc at C5-6.”

After the work injury, the claimant began to receive a pension from his employer, which was entirely funded by the employer. As we have previously discussed in this blog, this resulted in a credit for the entire amount of the pension the injured worker received, under Section 204(a) of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act. Subsequently, the employer here went bankrupt and the pension was terminated by the government, and taken over by the United States Federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC).

The employer, despite no longer directly paying the pension, still desired to have a credit for the pension payments. A Petition for Review was filed and litigated before a WCJ. Both parties presented expert testimony regarding how pensions are funded and paid. The WCJ found that employer failed to prove an exact amount of credit to which they would be entitled. Moreover, the WCJ found that no credit would be appropriate anyway, since the pension plan had been terminated by the government, relieving the employer of any liability it may have had.

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania disagreed with the latter finding by the WCJ. Instead, the Court stated that the only inquiry under Section 204(a) is “the extent to which the employer funded an employee’s pension, not who is liable for payment.” Thus, the termination of the pension, and taking over of the liability by PBGC, is irrelevant to whether employer still gets a credit.

Interestingly, especially after the decision in Glaze, the Court then affirmed the decision of the WCJ anyway, holding that employer is still not entitled to a credit for the pension payments, because employer failed to prove the amount of credit to which it was entitled. While we find this decision a bit difficult to reconcile with Glaze, we are delighted to see that, perhaps, a party in PA workers’ comp who fails to meet its burden of proof should really not win.

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