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The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the trial court grant of defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, which dismissed the civil action filed by claimant for vocational malpractice, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress, arising from services provided by Woods, on behalf of the worker compensation insurer.
Reasoning that "injury" occurring outside of the course of employment is not subject to the exclusive remedy provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act, the Superior Court held the claimant could pursue this civil action, based upon the averments of the complaint. The alleged injuries arose out of the conduct of a third party, which were injuries separate and apart from the injury for which claimant received work comp benefits. The Court relied upon past case law precedents for the holding that a claimant could seek a civil remedy for damages, which were beyond the scope of the Act. citing: Tropiano v. Travelers Insurance Co. 319 A2d 426 ( Pa. 1974 ) where a civil action was allowed for negligently provided medical services for a non-work condition, provided at the direction of the worker compensation insurer.Here, claimant asserted harm arising from his participation in job placement efforts, which required a disclosure and discussion of his physical limitations.
Importantly, the Superior Court noted "we do not comment on the merits of Appellant’s underlying claim".
PRACTICE POINTER: One may anticipate future civil action filings of this nature, particularly in light of the passage of Act 53, which requires vocational counselors, interviewing a claimant at the request of the employer/insurer, to comply with the code of professional ethics. This reference to the ethical requirements, suggests that the counselor must consider their primary obligation is to the "client". The CRC ethic code defines the client as the injured worker designated to receive services, not the employer/insurer. We believe this type of civil action filing, will diminish over time, if the underlying court of common pleas decision in Taylor, rejects claimant’s assertions, together with a full disclosure by the vocational counselor, as to how they will proceed, in consideration of the claimant as the client, in the context of an employer/insurer referral.