The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issues a decision on a “Question of First Impression
On December 20, 2019 the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision on a “Question of First Impression” involving the time deadline to file a Joinder Petition. In Sota Construction Services, Inc. v. WCAB (Czarnecki et al), No. 87 C.D. 2019 (Decided 12/20/19).
As with any field of law, the Workers’ Compensation Act imposes time deadlines for pursuing a claim – or the right is “extinguished”. Generally, a Claim Petition must be filed within three years of the date of injury (with some exceptions), or the claim will be barred by a legal doctrine called laches. Sect. 315 of the Act, 77 PS §602. Once a party begins a contest by filing a petition, another party may file a Petition for Joinder – to add another party to the case. For example, where the claimant works for a subcontractor on a large construction project overseen by a General Contractor, the injured worker might file their claim against the subcontractor who pays their salary, and directs their work. If that business does not have workers compensation insurance (a felony, by the way), the subcontractor, the claimant or even the Uninsured Employer’s Guarantee Fund (UEGF) may file a Joinder petition against the General Contractor.
Pursuant to the Regulations implemented by the Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC), a Joinder Petition must be filed within 20 days of the evidence providing notice to the involved parties that some other, not included party, should be ‘joined’ to the claim. 34 Pa Code §131.6(h). Once filed, the original claim is deemed amended, such that relief may be awarded against the ‘joined party’ as if included in the original petition.
In Sota Construction, the claimant filed his claim petition very near the 3 year deadline. The evidence providing information upon which to base the Joinder Petition was not developed until AFTER the 3 year deadline had passed. The Court, relying on the Rules of Statutory Construction, 1 PS § 1901 et seq. found that the rules could be rendered meaningless, and absurd by a claimant intentionally waiting until the deadline, making it practically impossible for a named defendant to ‘join’ other unnamed defendants. Distinguishing other cases addressing ‘similar” questions, the Court relied on the language of claimant’s petition, clearly revealing the Joinder pertained to the same work incident alleged in the original petition – and did not give rise to ‘joining’ parties involved on different dates with other injuries. It was all one-in-the-same cause of action.
The Court addressing an issue of First Impression more than 100 years after the Workers’ Compensation Act became law demonstrates the need to be represented by an attorney who focuses their practice on this unique and highly specialized field of law – to be informed and up to date on the ever changing court decisions that can and likely will impact your claim – YOU RIGHTS. Every work injury lawyer at Schmidt, Kirifides & Rassias are Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialists, pursuant to the stringent requirements, testing and years of service required by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the PA Bar Ass’n Rules to earn this certification. We KNOW the law, and will aggressively fight to protect your rights. We know YOUR CASE. Many firms pass clients from lawyer to another, based on what is convenient for the lawyer. SKR works as a team, with every lawyer knowing the details that make a difference to your claim. You will never be treated like a small fish in a big pond. You will get personal, compassionate epresentation.
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