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Immigration status not relevant in injured worker’s benefit claim

As some who have navigated the workers’ compensation system are likely aware, despite the fact that most employers in the state of Pennsylvania are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance, there is no guarantee that an injured worker will receive them. Once granted, they may also be pulled for a variety of reasons. While a denial of the initial claim or the benefits being cut off may act as a deterrent to some, there is an appeal process in place that could result in the benefits being granted or reinstated.

An immigrant from South America who was hurt while working in Pennsylvania recently faced the latter type of workers’ compensation dispute.

The truck driver was initially granted workers’ compensation benefits when he hurt his back while working in 2008 and his employer informed him that it did not have another job that he could do that complied with the restrictions the worker’s doctor prescribed. When his employer sought to end those benefits a few months later, the worker sought to keep them going on the basis that he was unable to work.

A point of contention in the dispute became whether the injured worker had proper documentation to work in the United States. In front of a workers’ compensation judge the worker indicated that he was from Ecuador and had resided in the U.S. for approximately 10 years but declined to answer whether he used his wife’s Social Security number. The judge that heard the case suspended the workers’ compensation disability benefits he had been receiving but determined that his former employer needed to cover the worker’s medical expenses.

Upon appeal to both the appeal board and Commonwealth Court, the workers’ compensation disability benefits were reinstated. In reaching that decision, it was determined that the worker’s choice to not answer the question regarding the Social Security number was legitimate under the Fifth Amendment and it could not be used against him in determining workers’ compensation benefits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently agreed.

While in many situations an initial claim for workers’ compensation benefits can be filed by a worker when it comes to an appeal or a dispute arises, things become more complicated. Accordingly, it is usually a good idea to work with a lawyer who handles such matters.

Source: PennLive, “Pa. Supreme Court weighs in on battle over injured immigrant's eligibility for workers comp,” Matt Miller, July 22, 2014

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