Protz Decision Applies to Claimants Who Have Exhausted Their Right to Wage Loss Benefits

Greg Boles
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Partner at The Boles Firm | Experience Matters
In Protz v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, 161 A.3d 827 (Pa. 2017), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the provisions under which insurance companies could limit the time during which injured workers could receive workers' compensation benefits was unconstitutional.  Pursuant to 1996 changes in the Workers' Compensation Act, employers had the right to request that an injured employee undergo an "impairment rating evaluation" to determine whether the employee was more than 50 percent disabled pursuant to guidelines promulgated by the American Medical Association.  If the employee was less than 50 percent disabled, the worker would be entitled to no more than 500 additional weeks of wage loss benefits.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that this provision was unconstitutional and struck it from the Act.  The Court did not address the retroactivity of its decision.  
In Whitfield v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, 208 WL 2701272, --- A.3d --- (Pa. Cmwlth. June 6, 2018), the Commonwealth Court considered whether to grant reinstatement of benefits to an employee whose benefits had been modified pursuant to the unconstitutional provision and who had received all benefits she was entitled to pursuant to her modified status.  She filed a petition for reinstatement of her wage loss benefits within 3 years of the date that the insurance company stopped paying benefits.  There was no litigation pending, and the parties stipulated that they had not previously raised the constitutionality of the provision.  The Commonwealth Court ruled that claimants satisfy their burden by testifying that their prior work-related injuries continue, at which point the burden shifts to the employer to prove to the contrary. In Whitfield, the Court rejected arguments that the claimant was not entitled to benefits because she failed to preserve the issue of constitutionality, that the reinstatement petition was untimely, or that the claimant's request for reinstatement of benefits was barred by res judicata and/or collateral estoppel.  
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