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Calculating Average Weekly Wages in Pennsylvania Work Comp Cases

For an injured worker, the proper calculation of workers' compensation benefits is obviously very important. If you've been hurt on the job, you need enough money to cover your medical expenses and move forward with your life - despite the loss of income from your injury.

Sometimes, though, calculation of the average weekly wage can become somewhat complicated during the workers' compensation claims process. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently clarified the law on this calculation in the case of Lancaster General Hospital v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board.

The Lancaster Hospital case involved a woman who was injured at the hospital in 1980 while performing a difficult task: cleaning the opening in a patient's trachea. The patient with the tracheostomy was infected with a dangerous virus - specifically, the Herpes Simplex virus.

When the patient sneezed, the hospital worker's left eye was sprayed. The worker did get medical attention, but eye infections would recur every few years.

Eventually, in May 2007, the worker lost vision in the eye. Although the causation traced back to the 1980 injury, the workers' compensation system handled it as a new injury. The worker no longer worked for the same hospital, but rather for a group of heart specialists.

On the new claim, the parties agreed that the worker should receive 275 weeks of workers' comp benefits for the loss of her eye. The question, however, was how her average weekly wage should be calculated.

The general rule in Pennsylvania is usually to look back one year from the date of injury and divide those earnings in four quarters, each with 13 weeks. The next step in the calculation is to take the three quarters with the three highest earnings. Dividing that total by the number of weeks yields the average weekly wage.

In the Lancaster Hospital case, the hospital argued that the benefits should not be based on 2007 wages because the worker was not employed by the hospital at that time. The Supreme Court disagreed and held that the injury, though it flowed from the original injury, was to be considered a new injury.

Source: "Pennsylvania Workers' Comp Case Update," Claims Journal, Denise Johnson, 7-30-12

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