PA Supreme Court Reenforces Exclusive Provisions of Workers Comp Act

Pennsylvania workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy when a person is injured at work. The exceptions are quite narrow to sue the employer outside the remedies provided for within the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.

A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion further solidified the exclusivity provisions. In Franczyk v. Homes Depot, No. 11 WAP 2022, a Home Depot employee was bitten by a dog while performing work duties for Home Depot. The crux of the case revolves around the dog bite incident and the injured worker claiming that Home Deport acted negligently by not allowing or providing identification or contact information of the dog owner, which interfered with the ability of the injured worker to file a third party action against the dog owner. Since the injured worker was unable to effectively pursue a third party action against the dog owner, the injured employee sought additional damages from Home Depot, damages outside the liability under the PA WC Act.

The Court spelled out the strong exclusivity of the PA WC Act.

The WCA’s linchpin is its “exclusivity provision,” which provides that “[t]he liability of any employer under this act shall be exclusive and in place of any and all other liability to such employees . . . in any action at law or otherwise on account of any injury or death . . . or occupational disease.”2 Over the long history of the Act, our courts have recognized only a few narrow exceptions to this exclusivity. In the instant case, the trial court recognized a novel exception and denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. We disagree. The exception proffered by the lower courts cannot be reconciled with the Act’s design, purpose, or plain language. Thus, we reverse.

The Court went on to explain the deep desire to maintain exclusivity of the PA WC Act for work-related in at a minimum, the WCA has anticipated and foreclosed virtually any sort of negligence claim against an employer “on account of” a physical injury that occurs in the workplace.

It is less clear that the negligence claim so excluded must be a claim for personal injury. The legislature’s goal was not to immunize, but merely to cabin, an employer’s obligation to employees for workplace injuries, in recognition of the fact that injuries are an inevitable incident of the workplace. The means chosen to limit that exposure was a system to ensure prompt, reasonable compensation to injured employees while protecting the employer from the burden of case-by-case litigation injuries.

This is frustrating for many injured workers to know that besides benefits provided for injured workers under the PA WC Act, no other avenue exists to allow a separate lawsuit against the employer. Fact is, this opinion makes it quite clear that a third-party action against an employer outside the PA WC Act, is very narrow and very slim. This opinion reenforces exclusivity.  If you have been injured at work, count on the trusted and experienced representation of Mooney Law.  We have obtained tens of millions of dollars in benefits for injured workers across Pennsylvania and Maryland.  We provide all injured workers free consultations.  Call today at 717-200-HELP or 717-632-4656.  You can also visit our website to schedule a consultation.

Mark Buterbaugh

Attorney representing injured workers and Social Security Disability clients in Pennsylvania and Maryland.