Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of Nicholas Taglianetti, deceased; Grace Taglianetti, widow v. Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, No. A-79501.
Carl M. Mazzocone, with him Lawrence, Hannaway, Kates, Livesey & Mazzocone, P.C., for petitioner.
Stephen J. Harlen, Swartz, Campbell & Detweiler, for respondent, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Judges Williams, Jr., MacPhail and Palladino, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Palladino.
[ 63 Pa. Commw. Page 458]
Claimant-widow appeals an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) which affirmed a referee's decision dismissing her fatal claim petition pursuant to Section 315 of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act (Act), Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended, 77 P.S. § 602. We affirm the order of the Board.
Almost six years after the death of her husband,*fn1 Claimant filed a fatal claim petition, alleging that her claim should not be barred as untimely because her husband's employer had misled her regarding her potential right to death benefits.
In workmen's compensation cases "the claimant has the burden of establishing the right to compensation and all of the elements necessary to support an award." Halaski v. Hilton Hotel, 487 Pa. 313, 317, 409 A.2d 367, 369 (1979). "[I]n order for the claimant to avail herself of estoppel under the Act, she must prove that the statements [of the employer] relied on must have reasonably lulled her into a false sense of security as to her claim." Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board v. Niemann, 24 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 377, 383, 356 A.2d 370, 373 (1976) (emphasis in original). Where, as here, the party with the burden of proof did not prevail below, this Court's scope of review consists of determining whether the factual findings are consistent with each other and with the conclusions of law and can be sustained without a capricious disregard of competent evidence. Republic Steel Corp. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 56 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 57, 423 A.2d 1142 (1981).
[ 63 Pa. Commw. Page 459]
While, as Claimant maintains, the Act is to be liberally construed, legislative intent expressed in unambiguous language cannot be avoided. Dumas v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 55 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 459, 423 A.2d 476 (1980). Section 315 of the Act unequivocally bars all fatal claim petitions which have not been filed within three years after the employe's death.*fn2 "The courts may not extend the period [for filing] ex gratia in aid of a meritorious claim or to relieve against the hardship of particular circumstances." Fulton v. Philadelphia Rustproof Co., 200 Pa. Superior Ct. 467, 469, 190 A.2d 459, 460 (1963).
Nevertheless, when an employer has deceived a claimant, and thus delayed the initiation of a claim, the employer is estopped from asserting as a defense the claimant's belated pursuance of his rights. Helstrom v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 43 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 113, 401 A.2d 882 (1979); Landis v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 29 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 227, 370 A.2d 412 (1977); Kushner v. Strick Trailer Co., 10 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 518, 312 A.2d 471 (1973).
Deception occurs where a claimant is reasonably lulled into a false sense of security, and resultant inaction, by ...