Tuesday, December 11, 2018

PA Supreme Court Reaffirms Rule that Workers' Compensation Carrier May Not Directly Enforce Its Subrogation Rights Against Tortfeasor

In the case of Hartford Ins. Grp. v. Kamara, No. 24 EAP 2017 (Nov. 21, 2018) (Op. by Baer, J.), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether a workers’ compensation carrier could bring a third-party action against an alleged tortfeasor on behalf of an injured employee in order to recover the amount of money paid out in workers’ compensation benefits where that injured employee did not independently sue the tortfeasor, did not join in the carrier’s action, and did not assign her cause of action to the carrier.  

This matter arose out of an incident during which the Plaintiff was struck as a pedestrian while the Plaintiff was in the scope and course of her employment.   The Plaintiff had recovered workers’ compensation benefits through the Hartford Insurance Group.

When the Plaintiff herself did not seek to recover damages against the third party tortfeasors, the workers’ compensation carrier sought to recover on its subrogation rights under the workers’ compensation act by filing a suit against the tortfeasors.  

After this case worked its way up to the appellate ladder, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case reaffirmed the “well-settled proposition that the right of action against the tortfeasor remains in the injured employee.”   The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that, unless the injured employee assigns her cause of action or voluntarily joins the litigation as a party Plaintiff, the workers’ compensation carrier may not enforce its statutory right to subrogation by filing an action directly against the tortfeasor.  

As such, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania vacated the Superior Court’s judgment and reinstated the decision of the trial court which had sustained the Preliminary Objections filed by the tortfeasor which serve to dismiss the carrier’s Complaint with prejudice.  

Anyone wishing to review the Majority Opinion by Justice Baer may click HERE.

The Dissenting Opinion by Chief Justice Saylor can be viewed HERE.

The Dissenting Opinion by Justice Todd can be viewed at this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Scott Cooper of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania law firm of Schmidt Kramer for bringing this case to my attention.

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