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Injured At Work And Then Incarcerated

  • Dave Brown, Esquire
  • 06/15/2020

Nothing will stop your workers’ comp. benefits faster than getting convicted of a crime. Here are the ins and outs of Pennsylvania law with regard to the effect a conviction – or an arrest – will have on your workers’ compensation rights.

The law in Pennsylvania is clear that an employer is not required to pay an injured worker wage loss (money) benefits for any period in which the worker is incarcerated after a conviction. So if you injure yourself at work and are collecting workers’ comp. benefits, and then plead guilty to a crime (or are found guilty by a jury or judge) and sentenced to prison, the insurance company for your employer can immediately cut off your benefits.

This contrasts to the situation in which a doctor hired by the insurance company examines you and finds you fully recovered from your work injury and not in need of further medical treatment. Under that scenario, the insurance cannot just cut off your benefits – they have to go through the process of filing a petition, and a Workers’ Compensation Judge will decide if you have fully recovered and whether your benefits should be stopped. While their petition is pending before the Judge, which could take a year, you will continue to receive your workers’ comp. benefits. You will not have that luxury if you are convicted of a crime and imprisoned – your benefits will stop right away. This might seem harsh, but the rationale of the law is that if you are incarcerated after a conviction, you are no longer in the work force and your loss of wages is not due to your work injury but to your criminal conduct.

The law is rightfully more forgiving if you have been arrested but not convicted. If you are simply arrested and plead not guilty to the charges, you are entitled to the presumption of innocence, and the insurance company cannot unilaterally stop your benefits. The reasoning for this difference is because the charges against you might be dismissed, or you could be acquitted by a jury or judge, your benefits should continue while the charges are pending against you.

There is a case which will be decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court later this year or in 2021 which involves a man who was injured at work, began to receive workers’ comp. benefits, and then was arrested and sent to jail. Because of his limited financial resources, he could not post bail and sat in jail for a year and five months. Finally, he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to time served and released. The Workers’ Compensation Judge and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board found that because the man’s guilty plea was akin to a conviction, he was deprived of the right to receive workers’ comp. benefits during the 17 months that he was incarcerated. The Commonwealth Court (the next level up from the Appeal Board) disagreed and ruled that the man should not be penalized simply because he didn’t have the financial ability to post bail and therefore had to remain in jail until his case was adjudicated. The man’s employer appealed to our state’s highest court, the Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case because it involves such an unusual issue.

We also want to stress, that in the eyes of workers’ comp. law, the term “incarcerated” is not limited just to individuals who are imprisoned. If a person is in a halfway house, drug & rehab. facility, or on house arrest following a conviction, he or she will not be able to collect wage loss benefits. The reasoning is that the confinement of these individuals – even if not in a jail – takes them out of the work force and prevents them from receiving wage loss benefits on the basis that their criminal actions, not their work injury, is the cause of their lost wages.
One final point: The loss of benefits to which we refer only applies to wage loss or money benefits; incarceration after conviction does not affect an injured worker’s right to payment of medical bills. Thus, if you are in jail following a conviction, and are transferred to a hospital to undergo knee surgery which is related to your work injury, the insurance company is responsible to pay for your surgery and any other bills related to your surgery.

If you, a family member, or friend is in the difficult predicament of injured and arrested or incarcerated, and has a workers’ comp. claim, we at Pearson Koutcher Law can help. We have represented numerous injured workers over the years who have gotten caught up in the legal system. We have a team of experienced lawyers with expertise in workers’ compensation law. All we handle are workers’ comp. cases – nothing else. Please give us a call for a free consultation.