Petition to reinstate total temporary disability benefits must be filed within 500 weeks of suspension.
The claimant's total disability benefits from a 1992 work-related neck injury were suspended on February 5, 1996, following his return to work in a full-time position which paid wages equal to or greater than his pre-injury wages. He continued to work for the employer until March 2006, when he was placed on restrictions that the employer could not accommodate.
The claimant thereafter filed a reinstatement petition, alleging that his work injury caused a loss of earnings, along with a modification claim petition. The judge denied these petitions, finding that they were time-barred since they were filed more than 500 weeks after benefits were suspended.
On appeal, the claimant argued that there is no time bar to seeking total disability benefits under § 413(a) of the Act. The court disagreed, finding that this provision specifies that where compensation benefits have been suspended because the employee's earnings are equal to or greater than the pre-injury wage, reinstatement of benefits must be sought during the time period for which partial disability benefits are payable, which is 500 weeks. A different time period applies under § 413(a) where benefits are modified, as in that situation the claimant has three years from the last payment of compensation to file a reinstatement petition. Although the court acknowledged that there may be no sound policy justification for the 500-week limitation on further claims in the case of suspension and not modification, nonetheless, it held that the plain language of the statute and long-standing case precedent must be followed.
The claimant further contended that, since he was limited to performing a light-duty job during the ten years of employment post-injury, he should have three years to seek reinstatement. The court rejected this argument, noting that the Act speaks only to the amount of wage loss benefits, not the type of work performed.
Case Law Alert - 3rd Qtr 2012