View

Is an Employer Liable to Purchase a New Home for an Injured Worker?

Article by Stephen Perrott, Esq. and Joseph Romano, Esq.

In a recent Decision, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that while an employer is liable for renovations to a current or new home, an employer is not liable for the purchase price of a new home or closing costs associated with the purchase of a new home when an injured worker requires home modifications attributable to their work injury.

In Ralph Martin Construction and Lackawanna American Insurance Company v. Miguel Castaneda-Escobar, (WCAB), 341 C.D. 2021, the Commonwealth Court held at §306 (F.1)(1)(ii) of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act that requires employers and/or their insurers to pay for orthopaedic appliances does not create an obligation for employer to pay for the purchase of a new home to accommodate an employee’s work injury. Pennsylvania Courts have previously held that modifications to a home are the responsibility of the employer as they fall under the category of orthopaedic appliances. However, in Ralph Martin Construction, the Commonwealth Court distinguished the purchase of a new home from modifications to a current or new home.

In Ralph Martin Construction, the Claimant was injured when he fell off a roof resulting in him becoming paraplegic. As a result of the Claimant’s work injury, he required modifications to his home. The Claimant asserted that the purchase of a new home may be more cost-efficient than making extensive modifications to his current home. As a result, he purchased a new home that would also require some modification.
The Claimant filed a Petition to Review Medical Treatment and/or Billing and argued that the purchase of his new home was reimbursable under §306(F.1)(1)(ii) of the Act. The Workers’ Compensation Judge found that the employer was not responsible for the purchase price of the Claimant’s new home. On appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board determined that while the Employer was not responsible for payment of a new home, the employer was responsible for payment of the renovations to the new home.

Ultimately, the Commonwealth Court interpreted the term “orthopaedic appliance” under §306 of the Act. Specifically, the Commonwealth Court held that the purchase of a new home was outside of the reasonable scope and construction of the term “orthopaedic appliance”. As a result, the employer, while responsible for payment of renovations to the Claimant’s new home, was not responsible for payment of closing costs or the purchase price of the Claimant’s new home. The employer did voluntarily pay for renovations to the Claimant’s new home before the Commonwealth Court rendered its Decision.

The firm’s Workers’ Compensation Practice Group provides legal consultation and risk management services to a wide variety of industries. For more information, please contact Stephen Perrott at srperrott@burnswhite.com or Joseph Romano at jcromano@burnswhite.com.

About the Authors

Associate Stephen R. Perrott defends self-insured employers, insurance companies, and third-party administrators as part of the Workers’ Compensation Group at Burns White. He is also a part of the firm’s Medicare Compliance Group.

Joseph C. Romano is a Member in the Workers’ Compensation Group. He focuses his work on the defense of employers and insurance companies in Pennsylvania.