What the Worker’s Compensation “Manual” DOESN’T tell you!
Some lawyers tend to focus so much of their practice on one field of law, they forget that there are often situations where completely different fields of law overlap. Workers’ Compensation has many such traps – perhaps the most common of which is the Domestic Relations Code. Since 2006, every workers’ compensation lawyer – for both claimant and insurance company – and every Workers’ Compensation Judge – have a duty to investigate the Pennsylvania Child Support website for any Orders against the claimant, in any situation where the injured worker may be awarded $5,000.00 or more. The Affidavit required to be signed by the claimant ALSO includes spousal support obligations – often overlooked by many lawyers, due to the emphasis on child support. Further, the duty to conduct a ‘web search’ applies to Orders within Pennsylvania, but the lawyer’s (and Judge’s) duty extends to ‘any’ Orders for Support.
Once a Support Order is identified, each County has different Rules and requirements regarding the ‘next steps.’ Some counties merely require the Workers’ Compensation Judge be informed, and a statement concerning payment of any ‘arrears’ be included in the decision. Other Counties require a Domestic Relations Hearing be conducted, to ascertain the extent to which the claimant has been deficient – and may Order more than simply arrears be withheld from any workers’ compensation award. Doing the ‘minimum’ required by the terms of the Workers’ Compensation Act may cause the lawyers (and Judge) to be in default of the Domestic Relations Code. In fact, if there is a Non-Disbursement Order in effect, any or all entities involved in an improper distribution of workers’ compensation benefits to the claimant, without satisfying such Order, may actually be in ‘Contempt’ of that other forum’s laws and duties. [See e.g. Campbell v. Walker, 2008 PA Super. 198 (Pa Sup. Ct. 2009). Act 109 of 2006, (23 Pa.C.S. Sect. 4305 et seq.]
It is essential for the claimant to be properly informed of the interplay between different areas of law, and how it can impact the benefits they ultimately receive. Whether it be a Child or spousal support Order, a credit or offset for Unemployment or Pension benefits received, or ‘subrogation’ from a Third Party recovery, the claimant has a right to know how and why their workers’ compensation benefits may be affected.