State News : Pennsylvania

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Jaime Whitesell v. WCAB (Staples, Inc.) No. 205 C.D. 2013 (Pa. Cmwlth. July 10, 2013)


By:  Lisa A. Miller, Esquire

The Court affirmed the Decision of the Appeal Board which denied the Claimant’s Fatal Claim Petition because the death did not occur within 300 weeks of the date of the original work-injury as required by Section 301 (c)(1) of the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Pursuant to an NCP, the Employer recognized that the Claimant/Decedent sustained an injury in the course of her employment described as a “lumbar strain/sprain” on October 15, 2003.  The Claimant/Decedent underwent two spine surgeries.  On June 28, 2006, the WCJ granted the Claimant’s Review Petitions in accordance with the parties’ stipulation that the description of the work injury be amended to “lumbar strain/sprain and lumbar disc disruption L4-5, resulting in total disc arthroplasty at L4-5 level.”

On June 8, 2011, the Claimant filed a Fatal Claim Petition alleging that on June 13, 2010, the Claimant/Decedent died as a result of mixed drug toxicity from medications prescribed by her treating physician.  Employer filed a timely Answer denying the allegations and asserting that the Petition must be dismissed because the Claimant/Decedent’s death did not occur within 300 weeks of her work injury (October 15, 2003) pursuant to Section 301 (c) of the Act.

The WCJ denied the Fatal Claim Petition holding that the Claimant/Decedent died more than 300 weeks after the date of her injury.  As such, the WCJ held that the Fatal Claim Petition was barred under Section 301 (c) of the Act.

Claimant appealed and argued to the Board that Claimant/Decedent’s death arose from an additional “injury” that was accepted pursuant to the WCJ’s 2006 decision, the Claimant/Decedent’s death was within the 300 week time limitation.

The Board held that the 300-week period of Section 301 (c) applies to the Claimant/Decedent because she sustained a work-injury as opposed to an occupational disease.   The Board citedShoemaker v. WCAB (Jenmar Corporation), 604 A.2d 1145 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992), noting that “even in the case of an apparently consequential injury, arising subsequent to the date of the recognized injury, the 300-week period between a decedent’s work injury and death will be calculated beginning with the date of the original work injury.”

The Board also rejected Claimant’s argument that the reason for distinguishing between a work-injury and occupational disease does not apply to this matter because the Claimant/Decedent had an “additional insidious injury.”  The Board explained that the Commonwealth court has concluded that when the condition arose from a work-injury as opposed to an occupational disease that the death must occur within 300 weeks of the original work-injury, without exception under Section 301 (c).

Citing Shoemaker, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the Board, noting that the Commonwealth Court has consistently held, without exception, that Section 301 (c) (1) denies benefits where more than 300 weeks has elapsed between the commencement of the compensable injury and the injury related death.