Who Is Covered by the Pennsylvania Heart and Lung Act?
Who Is Covered by the Pennsylvania Heart and Lung Act?
Most workers in Pennsylvania are covered by workers’ compensation. In the event of a workplace injury or illness, workers can seek compensation benefits, which typically secures two-thirds of their average weekly earnings and medical benefits.
However, some workers face added dangers on the job. Certain categories of civic workers face additional challenges and risks. Firefighters and other such workers (normally considered first responders) must often move toward danger as part of their work duties to keep other people safe.
In recognition of this fact, the Pennsylvania Heart and Lung Act offers additional benefits to civic employees injured in the line of duty.
The Pennsylvania legislature first enacted the Pennsylvania Heart and Lung Act in 1935. Officially known as the Enforcement Officers Disability Benefits Law, the legislation provides civic workers and first responders, like firefighters and police, with additional benefits to those eligible under workers’ compensation.
To qualify for benefits under the Heart and Lung Act in PA, the injury suffered by a first responder must be temporary and render them unable to do the essential functions of their job. If an injured firefighter or policeman is eligible for Heart and Lung benefits, they can receive their full salary until they return to work or their injury is classified as a permanent one. Full salary is considered base pay, excluding overtime. Once the injury is classified as permanent, the injured worker can receive workers’ compensation benefits.
Who Is Covered by the Heart and Lung Act?
Civic workers employed in various areas of law enforcement, correctional activities and firefighting may be eligible to receive Heart and Lung Act benefits. Covered civic workers and first responders include:
- Police officers, whether employed by a city, a county, a borough or a township
- Firefighters, whether employed by a city, a county, a borough or a township
- Deputy sheriffs
- State Police officers
- State Park guards
- Drug enforcement agents
- Parole agents
- Psychiatric security aides for the Department of Public Welfare
- Psychiatric security aides for Department Of Corrections
- Special agents for the Office of the Attorney General
- Correctional employees who care for or guard inmates
- Liquor Control Board investigators
- Liquor Control Board enforcement officers
- Delaware River Port Authority Police
How Do I Qualify for Coverage Under the Heart and Lung Act?
For an injured policeman or firefighter to qualify for Heart and Lung benefits, the following requirements must be met:
- The injury occurred while the employee performed an official duty.
- The injury is a temporary one.
- The injury prevents that employee from carrying out the essential functions of their job.
- Their employer can’t or won’t find them a temporary assignment within the organization that accommodates their injury.
Injuries suffered by any of the civic workers or first responders covered by the Pennsylvania Heart and Lung Act do not have to involve the heart or the lungs. Some states, such as Virginia, only cover injuries involving the heart and the lungs. Any injury that would normally qualify an injured employee for workers’ compensation benefits qualifies an injured civic worker or first responder for Heart and Lung benefits if that injury occurred while they were carrying out the official duties of their job.
What Qualifies as an Official Duty?
Under workers’ compensation law, an employee who suffers an injury “arising in the course of employment” qualifies for benefits. The Heart and Lung Act, however, states that an injured worker must have been performing an official duty to qualify for these additional benefits.
For example, if during the chase of a suspect, a police officer jumps a fence and breaks an ankle when they land, they would be covered under the Heart and Lung Act. If the same officer slipped on an icy patch in the department’s parking lot after their shift ended and broke their ankle, they would not qualify for Heart and Lung Act benefits. They would be eligible for workers’ compensation.
If a correctional officer suffered a leg injury trying to stop a fight between two inmates, they would qualify for Heart and Lung Act benefits. If that same correctional officer was involved in a car crash while running an errand for their supervisor and injured their leg, they would not be eligible for Heart and Lung Act Benefits but would qualify for workers’ compensation.
Are All Employees of a Police Department, Fire Station or Correctional Facility Eligible for Heart and Lung Act Benefits?
An injured civic worker could qualify for Heart and Lung Act benefits only if they fall into one of the categories listed above. If you work in a clerical role and suffer an injury in a police department, a fire station or a correctional facility, you would not be eligible to receive Heart and Lung benefits. However, you could receive workers’ compensation benefits.
Legislators designed the law to protect civic workers and first responders who are injured in the line of duty when those jobs involve certain dangers. A civic worker or first responder injured while chasing a suspect or fighting a three-alarm fire falls under the Heart and Lung Act. A clerical worker who slips on a wet floor in a Police Department while filing reports does not. They would, however, likely qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
An injured civic worker who does not fall into one of the Heart and Lung Act categories could try to challenge their status and argue they do qualify, but doing so successfully would be extremely difficult. It would be much better for them to pursue benefits under the workers’ compensation act.
What Heart and Lung Act Benefits Am I Eligible to Receive?
Unlike workers’ compensation, the Pennsylvania Heart and Lung Act offers benefits totaling the full amount of a regular salary, not including overtime or other jobs. Benefits from the Pennsylvania Heart and Lung Act are tax-free. The Pennsylvania Heart and Lung Act aims to ensure civic workers such as police officers and firefighters can do their jobs without having to worry about on-the-job injuries.
It’s important to talk to an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer when considering the difference between accepting Heart and Lung Act benefits and workers’ compensation benefits. For instance, while monies earned from overtime or extra jobs are not included under Heart and Lung Act benefits, they are included under workers’ compensation benefits.
Depending upon the injured worker’s salary, they might receive more benefits under workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation wage loss benefits in Pennsylvania, however, are limited. The most an injured worker can receive in a week is $1,049. Consulting with a workers’ compensation attorney can help you work out the differences in payments you would receive from either benefit.
The question of continuing to receive health benefits and vacation pay from your regular job while you are receiving Heart and Lung Act benefits is an open one. There’s nothing in the act that requires your employer to pay these regular benefits. They may be covered, however, under your union’s collective bargaining agreement with your employer.
How Do I Apply for These Benefits?
If a civic worker or first responder suffers an injury which they believe would make them eligible for Heart and Lung Act benefits, they must file an injury report. Their employer will ask them to write a statement explaining how the accident occurred, why they believe their injury is only temporary and how it would prevent them from performing the main duties of their job.
The employer may investigate how the injury occurred. Sometimes, they ask another representative of the organization to investigate. Your employer or this other individual will then prepare a report. If they have determined that you are eligible to receive Heart and Lung benefits, compensation begins on the first workday that follows the date you were injured.
If the report concludes that you are not eligible to receive benefits, it will contain details on why the employer believes this to be the case. You can appeal this decision at a due process hearing. The injured employee must then file an appeal within the timeframe indicated in the employer’s letter. If they do not file it in a timely fashion, they may lose the right to a due process hearing.
How Long Am I Eligible to Receive Heart and Lung Act Benefits?
Heart and Lung Act benefits will continue until the temporary injury heals and the injured employee can return to work. Benefits will end if the employee’s injury becomes permanent. In this case, the injured employee is still eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
It’s important to realize that employers and their insurance carriers do not like to pay any kind of benefits, especially Heart and Long Act benefits. They will do everything they can to either deny an injured worker benefits or terminate them. The standard used to determine whether an injury is temporary or permanent is not a hard and fast one. If your employer can show that your injury is of “indefinite duration,” that may be enough to terminate your benefits.
Any time benefits are terminated, the Heart and Lung Act gives an injured worker a constitutional property right, which means the employer must give them a due process hearing.
Can I Also Receive Workers’ Compensation Payments?
Yes, you can receive workers’ compensation benefits. When you are receiving Heart and Lung benefits, however, any workers’ compensation payments are sent to your employer. Your employer uses these payments to offset the cost of paying your full salary. In other words, your employer is paying the difference between what you would receive in wage-loss benefits and your full salary.
If your employer terminates your Heart and Lung benefits because your injury becomes permanent, you are still eligible to receive workers’ compensation payments. While Heart and Lung benefits only cover temporary injuries, workers’ compensation covers temporary and permanent injuries.
Who Pays for My Medical Expenses While I Am Receiving Heart and Lung Act Benefits?
Normally, workers’ compensation pays any medical costs incurred by an injured worker receiving Heart and Lung Act benefits. Your employer, however, is still considered responsible for paying these benefits.
Can My Employer Use My Sick Days to Account for Some of the Time I’m Off the Job?
Absolutely not. The Heart and Lung Act specifically states that an employer may not use any sick leave or vacation time to account for missed days if an injured worker is receiving Heart and Lung Act benefits.
What Happens During the Due Process Hearing?
There is no definite set of guidelines for conducting a due process hearing concerning the termination of Heart and Lung Act benefits. Each hearing may be different, depending upon the employer involved. By and large, however, the hearing conforms to regular legal guidelines.
Some employers make an effort to explain the hearing’s guidelines to the injured worker. Unfortunately, some employers don’t. They may offer no guidance other than the time and the place where the hearing will take place. Another concern for injured workers is that all the “judges” or individuals who decide on whether the employee should continue to receive Heart and Lung Act benefits work for the employer. There are no independent judges.
Therefore, it’s important for an injured worker fighting against termination of Heart and Lung Act benefits to work with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. An attorney provided by the union is unlikely to be as experienced in these complex issues as one who focuses on workers’ compensation. Experienced legal counsel is essential in these situations.
Should I Accept a Disability Pension If My Injury Becomes Permanent?
If your employer tries to convince you to accept a disability pension or Social Security benefits because of a permanent injury, do not sign or agree to anything without first speaking to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. By agreeing to a disability pension or Social Security benefits, you end your right to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
Workers’ compensation settlements involving permanent injuries can often result in a lump sum that provides income for an injured worker and their family for life. It is even possible that after negotiating a workers’ compensation settlement, an injured worker may still be eligible for a pension or Social Security benefits.
Talk to the Experienced Attorneys at KBG Injury Law About Heart and Lung Act Benefits
Determining if you are eligible for Heart and Lung Act benefits and then determining whether it is better to receive those benefits or to apply for workers’ compensation can be frustrating. Being injured, worrying about how to provide for your family and wondering when you go back to work complicate the issue.
It’s in your best interest to talk with a workers’ compensation attorney at KBG Injury Law. They are experienced with and knowledgeable about issues concerning the Heart and Lung Act and workers’ compensation benefits and can help you determine the best path forward. They can also provide you with guidance and representation if your employer tries to terminate any benefits you are receiving.
Call us at 800-509-1011 or visit our contact page to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys.