Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Serrano v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Ametek, Inc.)

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

February 13, 2017

Jaime Serrano, Petitioner
v.
Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Ametek, Inc.), Respondent

          Argued: December 15, 2016

          BEFORE: HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge HONORABLE JULIA K. HEARTHWAY, Judge

          OPINION

          MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge

         Jaime Serrano (Claimant) petitions for review of an adjudication of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Board) that modified his compensation benefits pursuant to Section 319 of the Workers' Compensation Act (Act).[1] The Board affirmed the decision of the Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) that Ametek, Inc. (Employer) was entitled to subrogate against all of Claimant's recovery from a third party tortfeasor. Claimant argues that the Board erred because Employer did not prove that the fund created by his tort settlement related to all of his work injuries. We vacate and remand.

         Background

         On March 6, 2006, a container of metal powders, with which Claimant was working, exploded, creating a flash fire. Claimant sustained second and third degree burns. On March 17, 2006, Employer issued a Notice of Compensation Payable (NCP), accepting liability for burns to Claimant's "[f]ace, chest, head, ears, hands, arms, [and] thighs." Reproduced Record at 23a (R.R.). Pursuant to the NCP, Employer began paying Claimant total disability compensation in the amount of $372.50 weekly.

         In December 2006, Claimant sued Aramark Uniform and Career Apparel, Inc. (Aramark), which had provided the flame-resistant coveralls Claimant had been wearing at the time of the accident. Claimant alleged that the coveralls did not protect him as warranted by Aramark. Two years later, Claimant settled with Aramark for $2.7 million. In August of 2008, Employer asserted a lien of $946, 024.70 against Claimant's settlement for its payment of medical and disability compensation to Claimant. Deducting Employer's proportionate share of attorney's fees and costs, the net lien asserted by Employer was $620, 178.30.

         Disputing Employer's entitlement to the full amount of the lien asserted, Claimant filed a review petition to have the amount of Employer's subrogation rights determined; $630, 000 was placed into escrow pending the outcome of litigation.[2] Employer filed a modification petition, seeking to recover alleged overpayments of disability compensation. The petitions were assigned to a WCJ.

         The parties entered into a stipulation of facts. The stipulation acknowledged that Claimant was entitled to a specific loss benefit of $27, 937.50 for the scarring to his neck, face and hands.[3] The stipulation acknowledged that the burns to Claimant's torso, shoulder, arms, and legs were aggravated by the defective coveralls. The stipulation stated that Claimant's work gloves melted from his hands, and the air-supplied face shield and hood melted onto his face; neither the gloves nor the hood were manufactured or supplied by Aramark.

         The stipulation did not resolve the question of whether the coveralls provided by Aramark contributed to the burns to Claimant's neck, face and hands. On that question, the stipulation stated as follows:

a. The Parties agree that Claimant's burn injuries to his torso, shoulder, arms, and legs were worsened and enhanced by the insufficient/defective coveralls provided by A[ramark], and that such injuries were made more severe than they otherwise would have been if A[ramark] had supplied sufficiently protective coveralls.
b. Claimant maintains that the injuries caused by the insufficient/defective coveralls were limited to those injuries described in paragraph 13(a).
c. While agreeing to the contents of paragraph 13(a), [Employer] also maintains that the entirety of Claimant's injuries were caused and/or contributed to by the insufficient/defective coveralls[.]

Stipulation ¶13; R.R. 26a (emphasis added). Claimant agreed that Employer was entitled to subrogation for the injuries sustained to his "torso, shoulder, arms, and legs" but disputed Employer's right to subrogation for the injuries to his hands, neck, face, head, trachea, larynx and lungs. Stipulation ¶16; R.R. 27a.[4]

         The stipulation included a chart that listed each body part burned and the medical bills associated with the treatment of that particular burn. There were invoices for physical therapy and surgery that related only to Claimant's hands, and invoices for a bronchoscopy that related solely to his lung injury. For the most part, however, Claimant conceded that the medical benefits paid by Employer could not be precisely prorated according to each body part injured. Because two-thirds of Claimant's burns were areas covered by the coveralls, Claimant argued that Employer was entitled to two-thirds of its asserted lien against the fund created by Claimant's settlement with Aramark.

         Claimant presented the deposition testimony of Martin K. Brigham, Esq., who represented Claimant in his tort claim against Aramark. The tort complaint initially alleged that the coveralls accumulated a static electrical charge that caused the explosion. This would have made Aramark liable for all of Claimant's injuries. However, further testing contradicted this claim. Ultimately, the tort settlement was based solely on the claim that the defective coveralls failed to protect Claimant and actually intensified his burns.[5]

         Brigham testified that prior to completing the settlement with Aramark, he informed Employer that Aramark had refused liability for the injuries to Claimant's neck, face, head, and hands because the coveralls did not aggravate those injuries. Likewise, Aramark refused liability for the injuries to Claimant's esophagus and lungs caused by his inhalation of hot air because the coveralls were not intended to prevent such injuries.

          As noted, the stipulation preserved Employer's right to claim that the "entirety of Claimant's injuries" were caused by the defective coveralls. Stipulation ¶13; R.R. 26a. The stipulation also preserved Claimant's objection to that claim. Employer did not present any evidence to show that the burns to Claimant's body parts not covered by the coveralls were caused, in any way, by Aramark's negligence.

         In its decision of February 7, 2012, the WCJ concluded that Employer was entitled to $610, 181.59 of the escrowed funds. The WCJ held that Employer was entitled to recover all of the wage loss benefits paid to Claimant. The WCJ also held that Employer was entitled to recover the medical expenses it incurred for the injuries to Claimant's torso, arms and legs caused by Aramark's negligence. However, Employer was not entitled to recover $15, 302.31 in medical expenses paid to treat Claimant's hands, neck, face, head, trachea, larynx, and lungs. Likewise, Employer was not entitled to reimbursement for the specific loss benefit of $27, 937.50 for the scarring to Claimant's neck, face, and head.[6] In making this determination, the WCJ credited the testimony of Brigham that Claimant's "work-related injuries to his neck, face, head, and arms, and his inhalation injuries to his esophagus and lungs, were not caused in whole or in part by the acts or omissions of A[ramark]." WCJ Decision, 2/7/2012, Finding of Fact No. 13.

         Both parties appealed to the Board. Claimant argued the WCJ erred in finding Employer was entitled to 100% of the wage loss benefits and all medical benefits paid, minus $15, 302.31. Employer argued that it was error for the WCJ to deny Employer subrogation with respect to injuries Claimant sustained to his ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.