Thinking Outside the Box to Protect Injured Workers

Pennsylvania, like every other state, requires employers to purchase workers’ compensation insurance to pay for wage losses and medical care for employees who suffer on-the-job injuries. Unfortunately, some employers ignore the law.

The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act was amended a few years ago – creating the Uninsured Employer Guaranty Fund (UEGF) – to provide benefits for employees whose bosses failed to buy workers’ compensation insurance. But dealing with the UEGF is difficult, because it seems to do everything possible to prevent claimants from obtaining the benefits they are entitled to.

There are other ways to get benefits, although it has been used relatively infrequently over the years. For example, an injured worker can file a lawsuit directly against the uninsured employer and try to recover through the courts rather than through the Workers’ Compensation system. The problems with simply suing an employer are that (1) it can take a long time until you win and get a judgment, (2) employers that don’t have workers’ comp insurance generally don’t have a lot of assets (money) to go after, and (3) the process can be expensive. Because of those drawbacks, many lawyers who handle comp cases won’t represent workers whose employers are uninsured.

There is another method that we have used. While it still is a battle, it can be a lot faster. The faster the process moves, the sooner the injured worker can get a judgment against the employer. A judgment, really a lien, may well prevent the employer from borrowing money or handling various other financial transactions until it is resolved. In other words, the quicker you get the lien, the better the chance of getting money to compensate the injured worker.

Our method is based upon Section 428 of the Workers’ Compensation Act, which permits an injured worker to file a judgment against an uninsured employer by filing a certified copy of a Claim Petition in any Court of Common Pleas. In other words, to obtain a lien or judgment, the worker must file a Claim Petition (the basic petition that begins the administrative process of obtaining benefits under Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act).

But even better is how the law is written, which can streamline the process and give clients the best leverage against their employers.

The process under Section 428 of the Act is simple. Section 428 of the Act requires that:

  1. The injured worker must file a Claim Petition against the uninsured employer;
  2. The injured worker must obtain a certified copy of the Claim Petition;
  3. The certified copy of the Claim Petition must be filed with the prothonotary of the court of common pleas of any county;
  4. The prothonotary of the court of common pleas of any county must enter the amount claimed in the Claim Petition as a judgment against the employer;
  5. Because the amount claimed is for total and permanent disability, the judgment must be for $30,000.00.
  6. This process is quick and easy, but most lawyers who represent injured workers either don’t know that it exists or choose not to use it.

We consider this provision another way to help our clients be fully compensated for their injuries. After all, the employer didn’t do what it was supposed to. We try to level that playing field.

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