The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that a municipal employer that has paid Heart & Lung Act (HLA) benefits to an injured employee in has no right to subrogation against the injured employee’s recovery against a negligent third party. In Oliver vs. City of Pittsburgh, the claimant received payment of $848 in HLA benefits from the City of Pittsburgh as a result of a motor-vehicle accident which occurred in 1996 while she was in the performance of her duties as a police officer for the City of Pittsburgh. Oliver also filed a civil action against the driver of the other vehicle involved in her work accident. The civil case settled for $2,300. Her employer, the City of Pittsburgh asserted a subrogation claim against the settlement proceeds citing the legal theory was that the provisions of the Workers Compensation Act (WCA) restored a right of subrogation for benefits paid under the WCA and also conferred a subrogation right relative to HLA benefits. The Pa. Supreme Court disagreed with the City’s position noting that Section 25(b) of Act 44 of the WCA is unambiguous in its straightforward application to “benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act”. The Court also referenced that the HLA applies to protect employees serving the public in “high-risk professions”- police officers, fire-fighters, emergency responders, etc. The Court noted that the HLA is designed is to ensure that if such employees from this class are temporarily disabled in the performance of their duties, they do not incur wage losses or suffer the expense of medical care and treatment. The Court thus concluded that the amendments of the laws in Pennsylvania addressing the employers right to subrogation, while applicable to benefits paid under the WCA did not apply to benefits paid under the HLA.
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Disclaimer: The above article is for instructive purposes only and each case is fact sensitive. Consultation with an attorney should be obtained instead of reliance upon the legal issues discussed in this column.