Advertising Disclosure Email Disclosure

Commonwealth Court holds that employer did not meet burden of proof that widow entered into common law marriage so as to warrant termination of widow's benefits under section 307 of the Act.

January 1, 2011
PPL v. WCAB (Rebo); No. 2264 C.D. 2009; filed April 1, 2010; by Judge Flaherty

The claimant in this case received workers' compensation benefits as a result of the death of her husband. The employer filed a termination petition to stop payment of benefits because the widow was involved in a meretricious relationship with another man. The workers' compensation judge found that the employer failed to meet the burden of proof of such a relationship, even though the widow admitted living with another man, she represented to the man's employer that they were common law husband and wife to obtain health insurance benefits, and submitted federal income tax returns as "married filing jointly." In denying the termination petition, the workers' compensation judge determined that the widow and the man never formed an intent to enter into common law marriage. Instead, the workers' compensation judge stated that the claimant "simply tried to 'game the system'" by saying she was common law married to benefit her financially. On appeal, the employer argued that benefits should be terminated under § 307 of the Act, or alternatively, that equity warranted termination. The Commonwealth Court noted that the employer has a heavy burden or proving by clear and convincing evidence that the parties intended to form a marriage contract under § 307. The court noted that Pennsylvania abolished common law marriage as of January 1, 2005; therefore, the employer had to prove that the claimant had entered into such a marriage before that date, via a definite agreement to marry. While it emphasized that while claims of common law marriage present a fruitful source of perjury and fraud, the court agreed that the workers' compensation judge did not err in concluding that the widow never expressed or represented a present intent to form a marriage. It also took exception to the workers' compensation judge's characterization of the widow's actions as trying to "game the system," as she violated the rules and procedures instead of using them, which could subject her to fraud in another forum. The court further rejected the equity claim, finding that the claimant was entitled to workers' compensation benefits based on her husband's death until she remarried. In the absence of proof of an agreement to remarry, there was no basis for equitable relief.

Case Law Alert, 1st Qtr 2011

Affiliated Attorney

Francis X. Wickersham
Shareholder
(610) 354-8263
fxwickersham@mdwcg.com
G. Jay Habas
Managing Attorney, Erie, PA Office
(814) 480-7802
gjhabas@mdwcg.com

Practice Areas

Before you send this email please note:

You are attempting to send email, through a link on our website, to an attorney of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin or an employee in our firm. Please note that your email may not be treated as confidential and does not create an attorney-client relationship. You should not rely upon the transmission of an email through this website if you are seeking to enter into such a relationship. Until such time as we have agreed to represent you, no information in your email will be treated as confidential. Please contact us directly by telephone at 1.800.220.3308 if it is your intent to seek legal counsel with our firm or convey confidential information.

If it is still your intent to send this email, knowing that it may not be treated as confidential, you may accept our terms of agreement by pressing "OK". If you choose not to accept these terms of agreement you may navigate away from this page by pressing "Cancel."