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Injuries at Work - No Lawsuit but Workers' Compensation Benefits

Jul 3, 2008
One of the most common questions I hear in my Personal Injury practice is "I know someone who got hurt at work, can they sue their employer?" Bad news, good news: No, you usually cannot sue your employer, but the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act provides payment of medical bills, lost wages and other compensation in the event that a worker is injured, maimed or killed at work. As an added bonus, Workers' Compensation benefits must be paid regardless of whether the employer caused the injury or it happened because of the employee's own carelessness.

Purpose of the Workers' Compensation Act
Under the Pennsylvania common law, a person's right to receive compensation for injuries depends on proving that someone else caused the injury through their negligence or intentional wrongdoing. Obviously, proving negligence or intentional wrongdoing is often difficult and it can take years for disputed cases to get litigated.

The Pennsylvania Legislature recognized that the traditional court system and negligence law did not operate well for workers injured on the job, so in 1916 it passed the Workers' Compensation Act. The Act replaces traditional negligence law and makes claims under it the exclusive means of compensation for injured workers. Simply put, a worker's ability to file a lawsuit against his or her employer was eliminated in favor of quicker and more certain compensation under the Act.

The Benefits Available Under the Workers' Compensation Act
If an employee is injured, maimed or killed at work or during the course of employment, the Act serves as a vehicle for that worker to receive compensation. It does not matter whose fault the accident was; if it happened during work, the Act applies.

For a work injury case, the Act provides that the employee's medical bills must be paid by the employer. Often, employees will be required to treat with company-approved medical providers for a period of time, but the employer must pay all of the bills with no deductibles or co-pays. In addition to having medical bills paid, if the employee is disabled from work, the Act requires the employer to pay lost wage benefits, which are calculated in relation to the employee's average earnings prior to the accident. Unlike the traditional Negligence law, the Act provides no compensation for non-economic damages, like pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of life's pleasures, etc.

The Act provides an additional method of compensation for accidents which involve the permanent loss of or loss of the use of parts of the body, such as arms, legs, fingers, toes, vision, hearing, etc. The Act also provides specific compensation for permanent and serious disfigurement of the head, neck or face. The Act provides a schedule of compensation for such losses, which multiplies a portion of the person's wages by a set number of weeks for each loss. The following are a few examples:

Loss of a hand -- two thirds of wages for 335 weeks
Loss of an arm or leg -- two thirds of wages for 410 weeks
Loss of a foot -- two thirds of wages for 250 weeks
Loss of an eye -- two thirds of wages for 275 weeks

Although the figures seem arbitrary and somewhat barbaric, the purpose of this "specific loss" compensation is to pay for the pain, annoyance, inconvenience and embarrassment relating to work accidents which cause serious and permanent injuries.

Finally, the Act has provisions requiring the employer to pay death benefits and burial expenses in the event that an employee is killed while working. The death benefit is calculated based upon the employee's wages and the Act provides for payments to specific beneficiaries, which are usually the widow or widower and children under 18, unless there are none of these. In the case of no spouse or children, death benefits can be paid to parents, brothers or sisters under special circumstances. The death benefit continues to be paid by the employer's insurance company for the length of time designated by the Act. Burial expenses of not more than $3,000 must also be paid by the employer.
About the Author
Tim Rayne is the author of numerous publications on Personal Injury Law and is a graduate of the Temple University Beasley School of Law's Master's in Trial Advocacy Program. Tim can be reached at http://www.macelree.com/traynelaw.
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