No. 87 E.D. Appeal Docket 1982, Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania dated December 29, 1981, No. 3069 C.D. 1980,
Roberts, C.j., and Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ. Larsen, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Roberts, C.j., joins.
This case involves a claim for survivor's benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Act, Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended. On April 11, 1973, Nicholas Taglianetti suffered a fatal heart attack while in the course of his employment in the General Services Department of Appellee, University of Pennsylvania Hospital. On April 3, 1979, Appellant Grace Taglianetti, the widow of Nicholas Taglianetti, filed a fatal claim petition for workmen's compensation benefits. After a hearing, the referee held that Appellant's claim was barred by the statute of limitations and dismissed her petition.*fn1 The Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board and the Commonwealth Court both affirmed. Taglianetti v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 63 Pa. Commw. 456,
A.2d 844 (1981). We granted Appellant's petition for allowance of appeal, and now affirm.
The pertinent facts relating to the filing of Appellant's petition, as found by the referee, are as follows: subsequent to the death of her husband, the Appellant received a letter from the Appellee dated April 13, 1973, along with a check in the amount of $2,948.49, representing "three months death gratuity for wife of deceased employee"; the Appellant requested information in May and July of 1973 from Appellee as to any widow's benefits due her;*fn2 the Appellee informed Appellant that apart from life insurance and the death gratuity, she had no other widow's benefits; the Appellant did not seek any advice from any other source regarding an alleged claim for work-related benefits which she may have; and that Appellant did not realize that she might have such a claim until she read a newspaper article on June 3, 1978 regarding this Court's decision in two other "heart attack" cases.*fn3
The referee concluded, as demonstrated in the record, that no evidence was presented relating to fraud, misrepresentation, or of conduct by the Appellee which would have lulled the Appellant into a false sense of security that a claim would be provided for or paid. The referee dismissed the Appellant's claim because it was not filed within the requisite time limitation.
The time limitation applicable to a claim arising out of the death of an employee is set forth in the Workmen's Compensation Act, 77 P.S. § 602, which provides:
the death, one of the parties shall have filed a petition as provided in article four hereof.*fn4
It is undisputed that the Appellant did not file a petition within three years after her husband's death. Failure to file a claim within the statutorily prescribed period extinguishes the right, as well as the remedy, under the Workmen's Compensation Act. If, however, the employer fraudulently or deceptively lulls the claimant into inaction, the employer will be estopped from raising the statute of limitations. The principle of estoppel recognizes that an employer should not be able to claim the defense of untimeliness when a claimant's failure to timely file a petition has resulted from the employer's own actions.
The Appellant contends that the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that Appellee did not deceive or mislead Appellant as to her right to compensation. The record is devoid of any evidence that the Appellee acted to defraud the Appellant. Nor is there any evidence from which it could be reasonably interpreted that the Appellee's words or conduct lulled the Appellant into a false sense of security. We are not confronted here with an employer's actions which promote a claimant's incorrect belief that a claim has been or will be processed.
The record demonstrates that the Appellant contacted the employer's personnel office on two occasions subsequent to her receipt of death gratuity benefits to determine whether she was entitled to any additional benefits. On those occasions, Appellant was informed that she ...