Unique Award for Disfigurement and Burns to Injured Worker

On August 17, 2010, the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board decided that an illegal alien can receive workers’ compensation benefits for scarring to the face and neck which was caused by burns at work. In this case, 275 weeks of workers’ compensation benefits, the maximum award permitted for scarring or disfigurement under the Act, were awarded to be paid to the injured worker for the burns. This is the first time the Appeal Board has looked at this issue, and agreed with the injured worker. The Appeal Board also agreed with the Judge who originally decided the case that, although the injured worker was an illegal alien, he could still receive workers’ compensation disfigurement/scarring benefits, as it is separate from an ongoing wage loss claim.

The Defendant argued that the Supreme Court’s decision in Reinforced Earth Co v. WCAB (Austudillo), 810 A.2d 99 (Pa. 2002), barred the Claimant from receiving ANY workers’ compensation monetary benefits. The Defendant argued that to award benefits would encourage illegal behavior and violate the Federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The Board held that the Defendant’s reliance on Reinforced Earth was misplaced in that it did not prevent the receipt of indemnity or medical benefits, but rather, it eliminated the need to show job availability once the Claimant was released with restrictions.

In deciding the case, the Board noted that this was an issue of what “appears to be one of first impression” meaning that the issue was not addressed in any prior decisions of the Board. The Board further agreed with the injured worker’s attorney, Calhoon and Kaminsky P.C., that specific loss was not equal to a wage loss claim; instead, it was an award based solely on the disfiguring nature of the injury.