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Allegheny County taxpayers can’t recover wrongfully paid attorney fees, court rules

January 25, 2018 GMT

A faulty Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board ruling cost Allegheny County taxpayers $14,750 and they can’t get it back, the state Supreme Court ruled last week.

The ruling comes in a section of the law designed to keep employers from filing frivolous appeals of an employee’s benefit claim.

In this case, however, the county prevailed on its 2007 argument that an injured former worker had voluntarily withdrawn himself from the workforce by refusing a job that was within his physical abilities.

That victory, however, came after the appeals board initially rejected the argument and determined the county’s petition was “unreasonable” because it was the same argument the county made in a 2002 filing.

The board ordered the county to pay the man’s attorney fees and refused to suspend that order while the county pursued an appeal on the main ruling.

The Commonwealth Court ruled that the county’s 2007 petition was based on new evidence and overturned the board’s decision. It also ruled that the board erred when it ordered the county to pay the man’s attorney fees.

While agreeing that the order was a mistake, the Supreme Court ruled that the workers’ compensation law doesn’t provide any mechanism that would allow the county to recover the money.

“It is not the function of this court to add missing language to a statute in order to provide relief; particularly when doing so would undermine the statute’s goals of protecting workers and discouraging employers from unreasonably contesting their liability,” the court said in its ruling.

Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1218, bbowling@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TribBrian.