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Cassandra Oliver v. City of Pittsburgh

January 28, 2011

CASSANDRA OLIVER, APPELLANT
v.
CITY OF PITTSBURGH, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court entered July 17, 2009 at No. 1441 CD 2008

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Saylor

[J-73-2010]

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, ORIE MELVIN, JJ.

reversing the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County entered July 2, 2008 at No. GD 99-007519.

ARGUED: October 19, 2010

OPINION

DECIDED: JANUARY 28, 2011

This appeal is set amidst ongoing alterations to the statutory, remedial scheme addressing the rights and interests of persons injured in motor-vehicle accidents. In this context, we granted review to consider whether a restoration of employer subrogation rights arising from payment of workers' compensation benefits also afforded public employers a right of subrogation for benefits paid under the Heart and Lung Act. The question is a subject of facially conflicting pronouncements by the Commonwealth Court in Brown v. Rosenberger, 723 A.2d 745, 747 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999), and City of Pittsburgh v. WCAB (Williams), 810 A.2d 760, 762 n.5 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002).

Historically, under the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Act,*fn1 employer subrogation rights were broadly curtailed, as follows:

In actions arising out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle, there shall be no right of subrogation or reimbursement from a claimant's tort recovery with respect to workers' compensation benefits, . . . or benefits in lieu thereof paid or payable under Section 1719 (relating to coordination of benefits).

75 Pa.C.S. §1720 (superseded).*fn2 In Fulmer v. Pennsylvania State Police, 167 Pa. Cmwlth. 60, 647 A.2d 616 (1994), the Commonwealth Court ruled that the "benefits in lieu thereof" language reposited in the MVFRL subsumed the more favorable benefits afforded to temporarily disabled law enforcement officers and firefighters pursuant to the Heart and Lung Act,*fn3 see 53 P.S. §637(a). See Fulmer, 167 Pa. Cmwlth. at 65, 647 A.2d at 619.

In 1990, the General Assembly replaced the "benefits in lieu thereof" terminology with the phrase "benefits paid or payable by a program, group contract or other arrangement whether primary or excess." 75 Pa.C.S. §1720. Of greater relevance to the question presently before this Court, in 1993, the Legislature repealed Section 1720 "insofar as [it] relate[d] to workers' compensation payments or other benefits under the

Workers' Compensation Act."*fn4 Act of July 2, 1993, P.L. 190, No. 44, §25(b) ("Act 44"). Thus, by its terms, Section 25(b) of Act 44 reinstated an employer's right of subrogation with respect to workers' compensation benefits in actions arising out of motor vehicle accidents, which had previously existed under the WCA prior to the MVFRL's enactment. See 77 P.S. §671. These amendments, however, made no mention of the HLA.

Appellant received $848 in HLA benefits from the City of Pittsburgh. Such payment was on account of a motor-vehicle accident which occurred in 1996, apparently while Appellant was in the performance of her duties as a police officer for the City. Appellant also filed a civil action ...


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