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Archive for June, 2017

Are the Benefits I Receive Through Workers’ Compensation Taxable?

The short answer to this question is “no,” but there are some caveats to the answer. While Workers’ Compensation benefits are not considered taxable income at the federal or state level, those receiving benefits through Social Security disability insurance or Supplemental Security Income in addition to Workers’ Compensation may have their benefits taxed.

For some, their SSDI or SSI may be reduced to ensure the combination with Workers’ Compensation is below a threshold of payment, known as the Workers’ Compensation offset. The amount of Worker’s Compensation that would be taxable is the amount your disability payments are lowered to stay within that threshold.

In these cases, it pays to have an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney on your side. A good lawyer will be able to ensure the offset will be minimal and reduce how much of your income is subject to taxes. However, it is important to know that most people who have this offset most often don’t have enough taxable income to owe federal taxes. As such, it is unlikely you will owe taxes, even under this exception.

Reduce Taxable Income in Workers’ Compensation Settlement

Structuring your Workers’ Compensation with an experienced lawyer can alleviate a lot of taxable income concerns. Not only can it help minimize the Worker’s Compensation offset, it can limit the amount of taxes you will have to pay.

One way to avoid unnecessary taxable income is to receive a lump sum that should be treated as though it were to spread out throughout your expected lifetime. This will cover the rest of your lifespan while avoiding thresholds found in monthly payments.

When Does an Offset Apply?

When receiving both types of compensation, the total benefits cannot exceed 80% of your average earnings at your current employment. These average earnings are considered the largest out of the following:

  • Average monthly wage
  • One-sixtieth of total wages in highest earning five years
  • One-twelfth of total wages in highest earning year out of the last five years

If you are filing for Workers’ Compensation and are concerned about going over the threshold, contact our lawyers at Vanasse Law today. We will help structure the best payout for your individual needs and ensure your needs are financially met.

Can I Seek Damages for PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop after a trauma in any setting. Despite this fact, not all states allow Workers’ Compensation claims based on PTSD. For the states that do, the worker must have experienced or witnessed an event that is deemed traumatic while acting the scope of employment, then show symptoms of PTSD that interfere with the ability to work in that employment. Furthermore, there must be an official diagnosis of PTSD from a certified psychiatrist or psychologist.

On the Job Traumatic Events

Some examples of what is considered a traumatic event at work include, but are not limited to:

  • Police, firefighters, or EMT respondents that see a horrendous or horrid situation.
  • A worker, such as in construction, that witnesses a serious injury or death of a coworker.
  • A teacher that was present for a school shooting.

These types of events can trigger PTSD symptoms that greatly affect ones’ ability to perform their job.

Signs and Symptoms

Not every traumatic event results in PTSD. On the other hand, not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Symptoms can show up years after the event or right after it happens. Symptoms that last more than a month and are severe enough to interfere with relationships are considered PTSD.

For diagnosis, an adult must have the following for at least a month:

  • A minimum of one re-experiencing symptom
  • A minimum of one avoidance symptom
  • A minimum of two separate arousal and reactivity symptoms
  • A minimum of two separate cognition and mood symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms include, but are not limited to, flashbacks where the trauma is relived, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts. Avoidance symptoms include staying away from places, events, or objects that remind the person of the event, or avoiding thoughts or feelings about the event.

Arousal and reactivity symptoms include being easily startled, feeling tense or on edge, trouble sleeping, or angry outbursts. Cognition and mood symptoms include trouble remembering important parts of the event, negative thoughts about themselves or the world, guilt or blame, or loss of interest in formally enjoyable activities.

If you are suffering from PTSD as the result of a traumatic event that happened on the job, you could be entitled to compensation. Contact our attorneys at Vanasse Law today to find out how we can help.

Workers’ Compensation Average Weekly Wage for Pennsylvania in 2017

Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, workers who are injured on the job are entitled to recover lost wages equal to two-thirds of their weekly wages. The Act also highlights the minimum and maximum adjustments with the benefit rate being set using the annual maximum that was in place when the injury occurred. This maximum is decided by the Department of Labor and Industry by calculating a maximum based on a state’s average weekly wage.

For the year of 2017 in Pennsylvania, the maximum weekly compensation rate for the calendar year is $995, which is a 1.7% increase from last year. This has been determined under the Workers’ Compensation Act, Section 105.1 and 105.2 by the Department of Labor & Industry. This new rate applies to injuries that were sustained on or after January 1, 2017.

This year, those whose average weekly wages are between $1,492.50 and $746.25 will be compensated for 66 2/3rds of their weekly wages. Workers who earn between $746.25 and $552.78 will receive a flat rate of $497.50 each week. For earnings under $552.77 each week, the injured worker will receive 90 percent of their average weekly wages.

Since Workers’ Compensation is the loss of one’s earning capacity, the benefits are not taxable unless under specific criteria, such as when someone is also receiving SSDI or SSI benefits. Unfortunately, wage increases an employee would typically receive are not factored into these benefits. This means those living off these benefits for an injury from years ago don’t have the same opportunity to negotiate their salary or have increased for cost of living raises.

Each case for Workers’ Compensation is unique. If you are starting a claim, contact us today. At Vanasse Law, we have an experienced legal team that can guide you through the process to ensure you get the most benefits possible to help your recovery.

Can an Employer Seek Reimbursement for Attorney Fees After an Unreasonable Contest?

Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, a Worker Compensation Judge is able to award a claimant attorney fees when after an unreasonable content is a petition. This type of award is based on the facts and legal issues that were involved in needing an attorney for the petition. A WCJ will also decide the amount and the length of time allowed for the claimant to be reimbursed for such fees and weigh the skills needed, how long the proceedings took, along with the time and effort expended.

This becomes complicated when an appeal on the award is successful. When a WCJ awards the claimant attorney fees and the decision is reversed, the claimant is technically no longer entitled to that compensation. However, there was no clear precedent on refunding that compensation. A decision in 2016 by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania determined the Employer and Insurer could request that a WCJ order can direct claimant counsel to refund those contest fees when the Employer is successful in their appeal.

Reasoning Behind the Decision

The Court based its decision on Barrett v. WCAB (Sunoco Inc.) (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010). In the case, it was held that an employer and insurer can request reimbursement of litigation costs that were awarded and paid in the case when an appeal is successful. In Barrett, it was decided that allowing the claimant to keep the legal costs in which they were no longer entitled would be unjust enrichment. Furthermore, the Employer would be unable to recover legal cost awards from the supersedeas fund, meaning they would be deprived of any meaningful appeal after an incorrect award.

This reimbursement doesn’t put the claimant in any hardship as recovery is sought directly from the claimant’s counsel as opposed to the claimant. Prior to this decision, the Court believed the same reasoning could be considered just as applicable to the unreasonable contest attorney fee issue.

If you had an appeal go through successfully and are being asked to reimburse attorney fees directly, we can help. At Vanasse Law, our team understands the intricacies of these laws and will put together a defense in your favor. Contact us today to find out how we can help.