The city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, refuses to give up its ongoing legal battle with a city police officer who collected benefits under Pennsylvania’s Heart and Lung Act, a form of workers’ compensation for law enforcement officers in the state. The legal dispute centers on whether benefits distributed under the Heart and Lung Act are recoverable in the same way that other workers’ compensation benefits are if the injured person later receives compensation from the person at fault for the injury.
Police Officer Injured on the Job
In 1996, a Wilkes-Barre police officer’s cruiser was hit by another driver, causing the officer to spend nine years away from work while he recovered from severe injuries. The officer received benefits under the Heart and Lung Act; later he also obtained a $500,000 settlement from the driver of the car that hit his police car.
Pennsylvania’s Heart and Lung Act
Pennsylvania’s Heart and Lung Act operates similarly to the Workers’ Compensation Act, but it only applies to law enforcement officers. When an officer is injured while engaged in work-related duties or activities, the Heart and Lung Act provides the officer with all of his or her weekly wages, tax-free, while recovering from the injury. The Heart and Lung Act also provides payment for related medical bills, and the injured officer does not need to use sick time while recuperating.
Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, benefits paid to an injured worker must be repaid by the worker if he or she later receives compensation from the person responsible for the injury. The city of Wilkes-Barre believes the same is true for benefits paid under the Heart and Lung Act, and accordingly it is seeking to recover the benefits it paid the officer before he received the $500,000 settlement for the accident.
The city’s attempts to recover benefits from the officer resulted in a lawsuit that reached a federal court of appeals, which ruled in 2009 that Heart and Lung Act benefits are recoverable just the same as Workers’ Compensation benefits. However, in 2011 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Heart and Lung Act benefits are not recoverable by cities.
Based on that ruling, the police officer appealed the federal court’s decision, claiming that portions of his case were still under federal court review when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made its decision; therefore, the new state interpretation applies. The judge agreed and ruled that the city could not recover its benefits payments. Undeterred, though, the city has appealed this latest decision, claiming that the police officer’s case was not under review when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision was made, therefore its ruling does not apply to the case. As a result, the case — and the officer’s settlement money — remain in limbo.
Facing an on-the-job injury is difficult enough without having to fight for benefits. If you have suffered an injury while working, contact an experienced attorney who can help you recover the benefits you deserve.
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