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Workers Compensation No Cover For Insurer For Intentional Distress Claim (PA)

July 7, 2016

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently refused to review a Superior Court ruling that a tort claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress is not barred by the workers’ compensation exclusion in the Pennsylvania workplace injury statute.
In <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Charlton-v.-PMA-Insurance-Group.pdf">Charlton v. PMA Insurance Group</a>, Plaintiff Matthew Charlton worked for a company called PMA. He was injured in a workplace accident and subsequently suffered physical and emotional injuries. Charlton brought a Workman’s Compensation Claim, and PMA provided physical and psychiatric treatment to Charlton. During this treatment, Charlton revealed childhood sexual abuse. Notes from the original counseling session made their way into the hands of a senior PMA account claims representative, who told Charlton that PMA would no longer pay for “something that happened to you as a child”, and requested that Charlton settle the Workman’s Compensation Claim. Charlton suffered anxiety, humiliation, and fear that his abuse would be disclosed if he failed to settle the claim, and so he filed a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against PMA. PMA argued that under the worker’s compensation exclusion, the Worker’s Compensation Act barred any tort action flowing from a work-related injury.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court sided with Charlton, ruling that a tort claim for the intentional infliction of emotional distress should not be barred under the worker’s compensation exclusion. The court agreed that employers are generally immune from tort action. However, the court noted that the claim falls outside the purview of the Worker’s Compensation Act since it alleges injuries arising from Charlton’s prior abuse, not the injuries from the ongoing worker’s compensation claim. By requesting damages for pain and suffering, treatment costs, and future wages, Charlton characterized the claim as one outside the scope of a work-related injury, and thereby outside the scope of any tort exclusions within the Worker’s Compensation Act.
The Supreme Court justices denied allocator, refusing to review the Superior Court’s ruling, and this matter is now expected to go to mediation.
Thanks to Melanie Brother for her contribution.
For more information contact Denise Fontana Ricci at <a href="mailto:dricci@wcmlaw.com">dricci@wcmlaw.com</a>.

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