While there is no limit to the period of time an injured worker in Pennsylvania can receive workers’ compensation benefits for total disability, the same is not true for partial disability. In PA, an injured worker can receive a maximum of 500 weeks of partial disability. After that time, even if a loss in earnings remains, as a result of the work injury, the workers’ comp insurance carrier is relieved of payment of the workers’ compensation benefits for partial disability.
Today, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision in the matter of Reutzel v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB), addressing whether this 500 week period of partial disability benefits can be “stacked” if there is more than one injury.
In September, 1996, Ms. Reutzel injured her right shoulder at work. As a result of this injury, Claimant was limited to working reduced hours and began to lose wages. Workers’ compensation benefits for partial disability began. In May, 1997, Ms. Reutzel suffered another injury at work, this time to her lumbar spine. Again, she quickly went back to work, although she remained at the same restrictions as before. Partial disability benefits continued, as they had before the 1997 injury.
The 500 week period of partial disability benefits ended in June, 2006, and the workers’ comp insurance company stopped the payments. A Petition for Reinstatement was filed by Ms. Reutzel. According to Ms. Reutzel, she only used the 500 week period from the 1996 injury; she contended that she still had another 500 week period for the 1997 injury.
Unfortunately for Ms. Reutzel, the Court did not agree. Citing to the language of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, and later cases which interpreted the section of the Act at issue, the Court held that an injured worker in Pennsylvania only has a single 500-week period of partial disability with an injury, and that this period begins to run on the date total disability benefits are initially suspended. In other words, the start of the 500 week period for the 1997 injury was not delayed or stopped by the presence of the 500 week period for the 1996 injury. The Court noted that there was no change in the disability status as a result of this latter work injury. The 500 week periods of partial disability run concurrently, rather than consecutively, when there is more than a single work injury involved.