CAR ACCIDENTS, HEART & LUNG BENEFITS AND SUBROGATION
This office ended the unjust subrogation of Heart and Lung from police officers and other public safety personnel involved in Pennsylvania auto accidents. In 1993, when Workers’ Compensation benefits were again subjected to subrogation in auto accident cases, governments began to claim subrogation rights from Heart & Lung benefits paid to public safety personnel.
Heart and Lung Act benefits were created by the Legislature to provide full payment of salary to police officers, firemen and other law enforcement officers who are injured in the performance of their duties and by reason thereof are temporarily incapacitated from performing their duties. These benefits are different from Workers’ Compensation benefits.
Based upon a statutory construction argument, this office was able to convince the City of Pittsburgh to waive Heart and Lung subrogation in car accident cases. When the City of Pittsburgh changed its position and attempted to collect this subrogation, this office filed a Declaratory Judgment lawsuit against the City of Pittsburgh. Despite the fact that the Commonwealth Court had already ruled against public safety workers on this same issue in Brown v. Rosenberger, 723 A.2d 745 (Pa.Cmwlth. 1999), Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge W. Terrence O’Brien took the unusual step of disagreeing with controlling appellate authority and ruled in our favor.
The City of Pittsburgh appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which convened a Court en banc, consisting of seven judges. The Commonwealth Court ruled 6-1 against our position. Judge Doris Smith-Ribner wrote a vigorous dissenting opinion in Oliver v. City of Pittsburgh, 977 A.2d 1232 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2009)
This office appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which unanimously reversed the Commonwealth Court opinion and ruled in favor of the public safety workers in Oliver v. City of Pittsburgh, 11 A.3d 960 (Pa 2011). This case is the basis for the elimination of the unjustified taking of personal injury settlement money from a long list of law enforcement personnel including: city, county, local and state police; LCB enforcement officers or investigators; parole agents; drug enforcement officers; park guards, firemen; deputy sheriffs; Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission enforcement officers or investigators; and many additional state, local and county law enforcement.
This is important because these liens can be large compared to the third party liability insurance available in many cases. Pennsylvania’s minimum auto liability insurance limits of $15,000-$30,000 have not been raised since the last century, while medical costs have skyrocketed. Many injured public safety worker occupy motor vehicles not covered by underinsured motorist coverage. An injured person could be left without a remedy for their injuries after paying subrogation costs. It is time for the Pennsylvania Legislature to end subrogation for Workers’ Compensation benefits in auto accidents.