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Jackson Township Volunteer Fire Co. v. Workmen’s Compensation Appeal Board

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Pennsylvania Workmen’s Compensation Act limits compensation for medical services to situations where an ‘injury’ has occurred and the term ‘injury’ has been broadly defined to encompass all work-related harm including any hurtful or damaging effect which may be suffered by anyone. Pursuant to the Act, persons exposed to a serious risk of contracting a disease which is commonly known to be highly contagious/infectious and potentially deadly, have been ‘injured’ for the purpose of receiving compensation.

    Facts. Claimant, a volunteer firefighter, was exposed to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and hepatitis B viruses in the course of his employment. He had responded to a fatal auto accident, and in the course of transposing the deceased’s body, some of the latter’s blood and bodily fluids got on the firefighter’s hands and shirt. The accident victim was found to have been infected with both AIDS and hepatitis B. The firefighter was required to take a series of shots and blood tests, and received injections to kill the hepatitis. All tests were negative. The fire company and its insurer refused to pay for these medical services. The firefighter petitioned for reimbursement pursuant to the Pennsylvania Workmen’s Compensation Act. A referee found that the firefighter’s exposure constituted an injury under the Act, and directed the fire company and/or its insurer refused to pay for the medical services. The latter appealed.

    Issue. Was the firefighter injured as defined by statute and thus entitled to compensation?

    Held. Yes. The court affirmed W.C.A.B.’s order.

    Discussion. In affirming the decision by a worker’s comp Appeal Board referee that claimant was “injured” for the purpose of receiving compensation under Pennsylvania Workmen’s Compensation Act, the Court carefully considered of several factors, all of which are instructive for examining similar claims. These considerations included the seriousness and immediacy of the risk created by exposure, as well as the reasonableness of the services sought and rendered. The court noted also that the Act “is remedial in nature and intended to benefit the worker, and its provisions should be liberally construed to effectuate its humanitarian objectives.” Parenthetically, the court took the opportunity to review the rationale by which the agency, like many other administrative body, operates, noting, “The scope of review of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania of an order of the Workmen’s Compensation Appeals Board is limited to determining whether a violation of constitutional rights has occur
    red, an error of law was committed, or whether necessary findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence.” With regard to the latter consideration, the court pointed out, “Unequivocal medical testimony is only required in a claim under the Pennsylvania Workmen’s Compensation Act when the causal connection between one’s injury and his work is not obvious.”


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