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I. CASE FACTS: The Claimant sustained a work-related injury on July 13, 1993 consisting of a chemical burn to both hands (Injury #1). Liability for this injury was acknowledged by the issuance of a Notice of Compensation Payable. The Claimant returned to work at no loss of earnings on August 23, 1993 and benefits were suspended pursuant to a Supplemental Agreement. The Claimant suffered a second work-related injury, a concussion, on April 19, 1994 (Injury #2). On December 23, 1996, the Claimant filed a Claim Petition seeking compensation for the loss of use of both hands relative to the July 13, 1993 injury. The Workers’ Compensation Judge awarded specific loss benefits relative to the 1993 injury to be paid simultaneously with total disability benefits the Claimant was receiving on account of ongoing disability relative to the April 19, 1994 injury.
The Employer appealed asserting that the Claimant was not entitled to receive simultaneous payment of compensation for his separate injuries where the total of the two awards exceeded the maximum weekly compensation payable under the Workers’ Compensation Act (the statutory maximum rate).
II. CASE HOLDING: The Commonwealth Court determined that because specific loss benefits are payable without regard to a Claimant’s resulting wage loss (specific loss benefits are special benefits, the amount of which are controlled as determined by statute and are not linked to wage loss), concurrent payments of specific loss benefits and/or partial or total disability compensation cannot rationally be limited by reference to a Claimant’s pre-injury earning power or by the statutory maximum.
The Court explained that the limitation in Section 322 of the Act (77 P.S. §677) which prohibits the simultaneous receipt of compensation from more than one Employer in excess of the statutory maximum, properly applied in a situation where Claimant’s first injury resulted only in partial disability which left the Claimant capable of returning to the work force at a reduced earning capacity. The second injury with a new employer results in total disability makes this Claimant eligible for simultaneous payments of partial disability under the first injury and total disability under the second injury. In both instances, the total amount of compensation payable is linked to earning capacity as is capped by the statutory maximum rate.
The Claimant in the instant case had no loss of earnings attributable to the first injury at the time the specific loss claim was filed. The Claimant only had entitlement to total disability relative to the second work injury. Thus, the Claimant’s injury was not an injury resulting in loss of earnings, and the statutory maximum limitation would not apply since this case did not deal with a combination of partial and total disability benefits.
Please note, however, that the limitation imposed by Section 306(d) of the Act (77 P.S. §315) remains unchanged. Under that provision, a Claimant cannot receive simultaneous payments of wage loss compensation and specific loss benefits where the injuries result from the same occurrence. In other words, the applicability of the instant case applies when dealing with two separate injuries which result in an entitlement to special benefits under Section 306 as well as entitlement to receive total disability benefits on account of a separate injury. In this case, specific loss benefits are not held or limited by the statutory maximum benefit rate.
III. PRACTICAL HANDLING ADVICE: The claims examiner should examine a Claimant’s entitlement and be aware that the statutory maximum compensation rates will not limit when a Claimant would be entitled a specific loss award from one injury while receiving benefits for a separate injury. Under this case, a Claimant would be entitled to concurrent receipt of his specific loss benefit even though he is currently totally disabled from a separate injury. The Court has made clear that specific loss benefits are not benefits that are awarded because of an incapacity to labor, and thus the statutory limitation would not apply to when benefits are payable.