Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Settlements Cannot Bar Medical Provider From Being Paid Without Notice

In a precedential decision that will impact every Compromise & Release (Settlement) Agreement under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, the Commonwealth Court ruled today that “The parties to a C&R agreement can bind each other, but they cannot release themselves from liability to a person who is not a party to the C&R agreement and who has been given neither notice nor opportunity to be heard on the C&R Agreement.” Attorney Dan Siegel of the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC was lead appellate counsel, and argued the case for the medical provider; he was assisted by Attorney Nicole Kratzer.

The Court also ruled that “A C&R Agreement cannot be employed to avoid the procedures in the Act for challenging a provider’s invoice or a fee review determination that the invoice must be paid. To hold otherwise would eviscerate Section 30l(f.1)(5) and (6) of the Act and violate the due process of law guaranteed to providers.”

Click here to read our latest appellate victory, which yet again impacts virtually every injured worker in Pennsylvania.

Influencers of the Law – They Aren’t All in Large Firms

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer has an entire section devoted to advertising for, oops, I meant highlighting the achievements of large law firms. Called “Influencers of the Law,” the section focuses on the accomplishments of many large law firms in the Philadelphia area. It also includes (not inexpensive) advertisements for 15 of the firms whose attorneys are featured in the section.

But there was something missing, a big something.

That something was a list of attorneys who practice in solo and small firms whose efforts on behalf of their clients are as admirable and worthy of recognition as the attorneys the Inquirer chose to feature. I could name a dozen such attorneys off the top of my head, whose omission is inexplicable. Because it’s not just the large firms who cases influence the law.

Consider our two-attorney firm. In the past year, for example, we were counsel in two landmark Pennsylvania Supreme Court cases – Protz and Bristol – both of which will have a dramatic impact on future claims for countless injured workers and persons injured in auto accidents. In addition, we are counsel in three pending Supreme Court cases – which are likely to have a similar impact. But like our counterparts in other small injured victim-focused firms, the Inquirer chose to ignore us. Click here to view a summary of some of our cases that changed the law.

Protz, for example, has been called the most important Pennsylvania workers’ compensation case since 1983. In the case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act’s impairment rating examination violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. By declaring this provision unconstitutional, the Supreme Court invalidated the arbitrary 500-week limit on wage losses that reduced the rights of the overwhelming majority of injured workers.

In Bristol, the Pennsylvania Supreme extended the deadline (statute of limitations) for filing claims by underinsured motorists. Before this decision, the deadline for filing these claims was dramatically and arbitrarily limited. This is a game-changing case and one where lawyers have commented how Attorney Dan Siegel’s oral argument made a difference.  Click here to view Dan Siegel’s oral argument before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

So when you need an attorney, remember that small firms are just as impactful as large firms, but we typically have lower fees, are client-focused (after all, some large firms are paying newly-minted lawyers fresh out of law school $190,000 a year, when they have never handled a case as a licensed attorney – who do you think pays for these lawyers’ on-the-job education?), and our lawyers have been there and done that.

I remember years ago learning about one now-retired lawyer, Steve Feldman, who was a solo his entire career. What did I discover? That Steven was involved in virtually every major case that addressed the rights of injured persons – and he was a solo. Lawyers practice as solos and in small firms for many reasons, just as do lawyers in massive corporate firms. It’s not the size of the firm that matters, it’s the lawyer handling the case. In that vien, the Inquirer’s “Influencers of the Law” missed the mark.

 

Pedestrians, Bicyclists, and Drivers: Sharing the Roadway

A 34-year-old bicyclist was struck and killed by an SUV at around 7:40 p.m. on Saturday, May 12th near 10th and Spring Garden streets in Philadelphia. This is only one instance of a sadly all too common occurrence in both Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs. Drivers must always be aware of growing numbers of pedestrians, runners, and bicyclists who share the roadways and crosswalks. There are several things you should know if you are one of the many drivers, walkers, or bicyclists in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Code considers bicycles as vehicles for purposes of traffic laws, and every person riding a bike on a roadway has the same rights and responsibilities as a driver of a vehicle, with a few exceptions. Thus, while you have every right to ride your bicycle on the street, if you violate traffic laws, you not only increase your risk of an accident, but can be found at fault in the event of an accident. The following are a few examples of safety precautions drivers must take when encountering bicyclists on the roadway:

  • Vehicles must allow 4 feet of distance when overtaking/passing a bike, and travel at a careful and prudent speed. It is the motorist’s responsibility to provide this distance, not the biker.
  • Vehicles may overtake/pass a bike in a no-passing zone to avoid excessive delays, but must be with due care and still providing the required 4 feet of clearance.
  • No person shall open any car door while parked alongside a roadway unless it is reasonably safe to do so, and must not interrupt a biker’s path or disrupt traffic flow.

A pedestrian is subject to traffic signals just like a vehicle, and a pedestrian has the right of way at a crosswalk where no traffic control signal is in place. If the pedestrian is not in a crosswalk, the vehicle has the right of way. However, even if you are not in a crosswalk, or a jury finds you partly to blame for the accident (e.g., you were texting or otherwise distracted when you walked into traffic), you may still be able to recover damages if you were 50 percent or less at fault. There is one important difference for those struck by vehicles while walking: limited tort does not apply to pedestrians. Thus, even if you or your household chose limited tort car insurance, you are considered full tort if you were injured as a pedestrian and not a driver or occupant of a vehicle.

We regularly represent injured persons in auto accident claims in Philadelphia, Delaware County, and the surrounding area, including pedestrians, runners, and bicyclists struck by vehicles. While nothing can completely erase the physical and emotional impacts of a car accident, our experienced attorneys can help when insurance companies refuse to fully compensate you for your suffering. If you have been injured by a vehicle while walking, jogging, or riding your bicycle, call our office at 610-446-3457 to set up a consultation with our attorneys. We will explain the process, guide you, and fight to get you compensation for your injuries.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opens The Door For Plaintiffs To Recover Non-Economic Damages

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that persons who file Whistleblower claims are entitled to compensation for embarrassment, humiliation, loss of reputation, and mental anguish, also known as non-economic damages. The unanimous March 27th decision in Bailets v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission affirmed that a $1,600,000 verdict for non-economic damages was not excessive. This ruling should incentivize government employees to report wrongdoing and waste, and open the door to expanding the definition of recoverable damages in other types of lawsuits.

In Bailets, the plaintiff, a 20-year managerial employee responsible for preparing financial reports for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, had received excellent performance reviews, but was fired after complaining about waste, impropriety, and politically motivated “pay-to-play” actions of the Commission. The Commonwealth Court entered a verdict in favor of Bailets and against the Commonwealth, awarding $3.2 million in damages, including $1.6 million in economic damages, i.e. past and future wage loss, and $1.6 million for non-economic damages, i.e. his mental and emotional suffering.

The Turnpike Commission appealed, insisting it was not liable for non-economic damages because the Whistleblower Law states the agency is only liable for “actual damages.” The Supreme Court disagreed, explaining that the overriding purpose of the law is that a whistleblower be put in “no worse a position for having reported the wrongdoing.” The Court refused to interpret the phrase “actual damages” to exclude damages for humiliation, embarrassment and mental anguish, noting that “if no recovery for such items of loss are available, a whistleblower cannot be made whole.” This ruling further affirms that plaintiffs are entitled to compensation for more than just the bare amount to cover their bills or lost wages.

If you have been wrongfully terminated based on your age, sex, race, or other discriminatory factors, or in retaliation, call our office at 610-446-3457 to set up a consultation with our attorneys. We also handle all types of personal injury matters, and will fight to get you compensated for economic damages and your pain and suffering. We can guide you through the process, and advise you about what you should expect and consider when pursuing your claim.

Commonwealth Court Rules that Pre-Protz IREs are Invalid When a Petition to Reinstate is Filed Within Three Years of the Most Recent Payment

The Commonwealth Court ruled today that injured workers in Pennsylvania whose benefits were limited because of an impairment rating examination (IRE) may seek additional benefits if they file a petition within three years of the date of the most recent payment of compensation (wage losses). Applying the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s landmark 2017 decision in Protz v. WCAB (Derry Area School Dist.), the Commonwealth Court – in Whitfield v. WCAB (Tenet Health System Hahnemann LLC)  – invalidated an IRE that modified the Claimant’s benefits in 2008, holding:

Because Claimant filed her Petition within three years from the date of her last payment of compensation as permitted by Section 413(a) of the WC Act, she was entitled, as a matter of law, to seek modification of her disability status based upon the Protz decisions, which found the IRE provision unconstitutional. Allowing Claimant to seek modification under these circumstances does not prejudice employers or insurers by upsetting their expectation of finality because such determinations are not yet truly “final” until three years have passed since the date of last payment.

The en banc Opinion by Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer contains a thorough history of the decisions in Protz v. WCAB (Derry Area School District), in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the impairment rating evaluation (IRE) provision in Section 306(a.2) of the Workers’ Compensation Act, as well as other cases that have addressed IRE issues.

In the underlying litigation in Whitfield, the WCJ found that Claimant was not entitled to reinstatement of her benefits. The Commonwealth Court disagreed, concluding that Claimant had a statutory right to seek reinstatement because she filed her Petition within three years of her most recent compensation payment, and had not waived her constitutional challenge:

The impediment that rendered her partially disabled under the WC Act, i.e., the impairment rating, is no longer a valid means of changing a claimant’s status. There was no longer a legal basis for Claimant’s disability status to remain partial because the IRE upon which the change in status was predicated was found, as a matter of law, unconstitutional and invalid. This change in the law was a basis upon which Claimant could seek reinstatement.

The Court remanded the case for a determination whether Claimant continues to be totally disabled irrespective of her IRE status. The Opinion did not address whether Protz applied to cases in which the last payment was made outside the three-year period under Section 413(a) of the Act. Judge Covey was the lone dissent.

Click here to read the Whitfield opinion.

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