Ordinarily, an injured worker in Pennsylvania cannot receive both workers’ compensation total disability benefits and also wages. Generally speaking, if an injured worker in PA has returned to work, he or she is no longer, by definition, “totally disabled.” The injured worker may be entitled to partial workers’ compensation benefits (if a loss in earnings continues), but would not be entitled to total disability benefits.
A rare exception to this rule was recently addressed by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania on July 22, 2008, when the Allegheny Power Service Corp. v. WCAB (Cockroft) decision was rendered.
Total disability benefits under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act are paid under Section 301(a). “Specific loss” benefits (benefits to compensate for the loss of use of a body part) are paid under Section 301(c). These specific loss benefits are paid regardless of whether there is any wage loss or not.
In Cockroft, the lines between total and partial workers’ comp benefits were blurred. Mr. Cockroft suffered a severe work injury, which cost him the use of both of his arms. Under Section 301(c)(23), the loss of both arms (or hands, feet, legs or eyes) “shall constitute total disability.” The interesting fact was that Mr. Cockroft had returned to work with his pre-injury employer. The workers’ compensation insurance carrier filed a petition to get a credit for the wages earned by Mr. Cockroft.
The Commonwealth Court found that Section 301(c) of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act is intended to compensate the injured worker for the loss of use of his or her body part or parts, and not to replace lost wages. Therefore, the Court found that, under these rare circumstances, the injured worker could receive total disability workers’ compensation benefits under Section 301(c)(23), as well as receive his wages, without offset or reduction.