Many changes to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, much to the detriment of the injured worker, took place in the sweeping 1996 amendments to the Act. One of the more substantial changes was the amendment to Section 204(a), allowing PA workers’ comp insurance carriers to enjoy an offset, or credit, for such things as severance, unemployment compensation and Social Security retirement (known as “Old Age,” though we certainly won’t use that term) benefits.
Looking specifically at Social Security retirement, Section 204(a) permits the PA workers’ compensation insurance company to take an offset equal to 50% of an injured worker’s Social Security retirement benefit. The Supreme Court of Utah found a similar provision in that State’s workers’ compensation system to be unconstitutional. With that decision in mind, attorneys representing injured workers in PA had high hopes for a similar result from the Pennsylvania Court System.
So far, unfortunately, our hopes have been dashed. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has decided, in Caputo v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania), that the PA workers’ comp system is different than that in Utah, and the offset in Section 204(a) of the PA Workers’ Compensation Act is indeed constitutional. Hope remains the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania will review this issue, but for now the 50% offset in Section 204(a) will remain.
Note, also, that taking Social Security retirement benefits can severely damage a workers’ comp case in PA. Between this significant risk, and the 50% offset, it is advisable for an injured worker to consult with an attorney experienced in the Pennsylvania workers’ comp system before making such a critical decision.