The Pennsylvania Heart and Lung Act is often referred to colloquially as “workers compensation for police.” While there is some truth to that phrasing, the two types of compensation differ in important ways, and municipal employers need to carefully consider these differences when presented with an eligible employee presenting a “heart and lung” case.
The Enforcement Officer Disability Benefits Law of 1954, commonly known as the “heart and lung” act, serves to provide full income replacement to police officers who are injured in the line of duty. It covers police, park guards, and paid (but not volunteer) firefighters. It provides the injured officers their full salary without most tax deductions. Thus, it is significantly more generous to the injured office than workers compensation.
Circumstances of Injury
The first difference is that heart and lung only apply to an officer’s injuries that are incurred in the “performance of their duties,” while worker’s compensation applies to any injuries that occur during the “course of employment.” Almost any injury that occurs at work would qualify for workers’ compensation, while heart and lung are more limited in application. Therefore, it is possible that an injury that does fall under the worker’s compensation standard would not fall under the heart and lung.
Temporary vs Permanent Disability
Secondly, the heart and lung act does not cover permanent disability. In order to qualify for these benefits, the officer must be experiencing “temporary incapacities” such that he or she may be able to return. This is a significant difference from workers’ compensation and radically changes how to evaluate employees on long-term disability.
Setting Up an Internal Procedure
A determination as to whether an injury falls under the heart and lung is made at the municipal level and follows the Pennsylvania local agency law. Therefore, it is incumbent on each municipality to have an internal procedure that complies with said law for making these decisions and setting up an internal appeal process. Like any local agency decision, these matters are appealable to the Court of Common Pleas, however, the likelihood of success is much greater if the municipality has a valid local agency process first.
Relying on an Insurer vs Legal Counsel
In many cases, municipalities will rely on workers’ compensation coverage to handle heart and lung claims. This can be a mistake, as the interests of the workers’ compensation coverage and the municipal heart and lung claim can be drastically opposed. A finding of permanent disability may trigger lifetime payments under worker’s compensation while ending municipal responsibility under heart and lung. So municipal employers can not solely rely on their workers’ compensation insurer to manage the process, but instead, should have their own counsel actively involved in the matter.
Navigate the Complexities of Employee Compensation Cases with MBM Law
Contact your solicitor for guidance at every stage of a heart and lung case to ensure the best results for the municipality. Maiello Brungo & Maiello’s Human Resources Compliance & Strategic Counseling group can help you navigate the complexities of employee compensation cases. Contact us today at 412-242-4400 or [email protected].