• The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania clarifies Section 413 (a) of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act
  • January 3, 2014 | Author: Francis X. Wickersham
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - King Of Prussia Office
  • This case involved a claimant who sought a reinstatement of temporary total disability benefits after the 500-week period of partial disability had long since expired. The claimant was injured in January of 1989. In September of 1989, the claimant returned to work with no loss of earnings, and benefits were suspended without a supplemental agreement or court order. Over 13 years later, in May of 2013, the parties agreed to a reinstatement of benefits from February to March of 2003. Benefits were then voluntarily reinstated again from June through August of 2005. In June of 2007, benefits were again reinstated. In November of 2007, the claimant began working a modified-duty position for a different employer. The claimant was placed on partial disability status by agreement. In January of 2008, the claimant felt he could no longer work and petitioned for a reinstatement of benefits.

    The defendant, who had been making partial disability benefits, ceased doing so, and the claimant filed a penalty petition. The Workers’ Compensation Judge granted the claimant’s reinstatement and penalty petitions. However, the Appeal Board reversed, and the Commonwealth Court affirmed that reversal.

    At the appellate level, the Board and the Commonwealth Court held that the reinstatement petition was untimely filed beyond the 500-week period for which compensation was payable under §306 (b) and §413 (a) of the Act. The courts also held that the claimant was not entitled to penalties because his right to compensation was completely extinguished by the expiration of §413 (a)’s 500-week statute of repose, notwithstanding the supplemental agreement signed by the parties in January of 2008 that provided for payment of partial disability benefits. The courts viewed this supplemental agreement as void and unenforceable.

    On appeal to the Supreme Court, the claimant argued that the petition was filed within three years of his most recent compensation payment, consistent with §413 (a) of the Act, and argued that his petition was not barred by the 500-week statute of repose since the defendant voluntarily reinstated compensation after the expiration date for his claim, which was sometime in April of 1999. The Supreme Court, however, agreed with the Commonwealth Court’s conclusion that the claimant’s reinstatement petition was barred by §413 (a) of the Act because the claimant’s statutory right to benefits expired prior to the filing of the petition.

    The Supreme Court held that under §413 (a), claimants retain the right to petition for any modification that they hold at the time of any workers’ compensation payment for a minimum of three years from the date of that payment. Where such payments have been suspended due to a return to work or an attempted return without a loss in earnings, §413 (a) extends the right to petition for the entire 500-week period during which compensation for partial disability is payable. In the event payments are resumed after a suspension of benefits, claimants continue to retain the right to petition for any modification they hold at the time of any workers’ compensation received subsequent to suspension for a minimum of three years from the date of payment. Finally, in the event that a period of suspension comes to an end upon the resumption of workers’ compensation payments, claimants retain the right to petition for modification as set forth in §413 (a).