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Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules on workers’ compensation case

Recently the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling involving an insurance company’s ability to sue in a case where a worker is injured if the worker doesn’t join the lawsuit.

The case involved a woman who was injured while working at a Thrifty Rental Car office back in 2013. She was hit by a rental vehicle as she stood in the parking lot, and suffered head, neck and back injuries.

The woman was actually employed by a company called Reliance Sourcing Inc. That company’s insurer paid her over $59,000 in workers’ compensation benefits.

The victim didn’t pursue a lawsuit. However, just as the statute of limitations was about to run out on an injury claim, the insurer, Hartford Insurance Group, filed suit in Philadelphia against the rental car company and the driver, alleging negligence on the part of the defendants.

However, because the victim didn’t participate in that legal action, the defendants argued that Hartford had “no independent ability to commence a subrogation claim directly against them.” The insurer argued that it was not a subrogation claim, but that it was bringing the suit “on behalf of” the victim.

In 2016, a trial court dismissed the insurer’s suit. The following year, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed that lower court’s ruling, saying that the insurer had a legal right to bring a third-party lawsuit on behalf of an injured worker to whom it had paid workers’ comp benefits. The case then made its way to the state’s high court.

The majority of Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices agreed with the lower court’s dismissal of the suit. In their opinion, they wrote that “sanctioning a workers’ compensation carrier to pursue litigation of the injured employee merely by captioning the complaint as ‘on behalf of’ the employee and including a bald assertion seeking any recovery due the employee, contravenes the very jurisprudence establishing that it is the injured worker who retains the cause of action against the tortfeasor.”

It remains to be seen whether this decision impacts workers’ comp insurers’ decisions regarding benefits and whether those payments to injured workers will require that the worker initiate or join in a legal action against the person and/or entity responsible for their injury. If you have any concerns or questions regarding your workers’ comp claim and potential legal action on your part, it’s wise to consult a Pennsylvania workers’ comp attorney.

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