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With its decision in Snizaski v. WCAB (Rox Coal Co.), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has clarified an employer’s duty to pay upon an award by a workers’ compensation judge following an appeal and request for supersedeas to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. While the decision is no doubt a welcome one for employers and their carriers, all parties would most likely agree that a binding and definitive time frame for payment on appealed awards was necessary. In Snizaski, the claimant, Renee Snizaski, filed a fatal claim petition following the death of her husband in a motor vehicle accident. The WCJ denied the petition. On Oct. 21, 1999, the WCAB reversed and remanded for a computation and award of benefits. The WCAB, in its June 13, 2000, order, denied employer’s petition for reconsideration of its Oct. 21, 1999, order and also included its own calculation of compensation benefits. The WCAB ordered employer to pay claimant and her four dependent minor children at the compensation rate of $527 a week from May 7, 1996, and continuing. On July 6, 2000, employer filed a request for supersedeas with the WCAB. Under the then-applicable Special Rules of Administrative Practice and Procedure before the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, the WCAB had to rule on employer’s request within 20 days from claimant’s response or 30 days after employer filed its request, whichever was sooner. After the 30-day time limit for payment of the award passed, but while employer’s supersedeas request was pending, claimant threatened to execute the award against employer’s property. In response to claimant’s threat, employer paid the back compensation due under the award prior to the WCAB’s ruling on its request for supersedeas. The WCAB denied employer’s request for supersedeas on July 31, 2000. Because employer had paid after the 30-day limit had expired, claimant filed a penalty petition for employer’s “late” payment. Claimant alleged that pursuant to Hoover v. WCAB (ABF Freight Systems), employer’s obligation to pay was not vitiated merely because a supersedeas request had been filed. Employer defended the penalty petition on the grounds that its request for supersedeas, which complied with the time restraints set forth in the board’s rules, acted as a stay until such time as the request was properly ruled upon. In so arguing, employer essentially requested that Hoover be overruled, especially considering the Commonwealth Court’s earlier ruling in Candito v. WCAB (City of Philadelphia), holding that it was not an abuse of discretion for a WCJ to deny a penalty petition because an employer did not pay during the pendency of an appeal. The WCJ granted claimant’s penalty petition; however, the WCAB reversed. Following claimant’s appeal to the Commonwealth Court, the court held that employer’s request did, in fact, act as a stay on its obligation to pay the award. In so holding, the court expanded its previous decision in Candito and overruled its decision in Hoover. The court agreed that allowing a penalty petition to stand while a proper request for supersedeas was pending effectively invalidated the obvious intent behind the board’s regulations providing for such requests in the first place. Specifically, the court wrote in Candito that “‘[t]o hold that an employer is liable for penalties for not paying compensation when its request for supersedeas is pending is, in effect, to make an employer’s right to seek a supersedeas in most instances a nullity.’ Because the board has promulgated regulations that, in effect, purport to stay an employer’s obligation to pay when a proper request for a supersedeas has been filed and, in Candito, the employer was merely following those regulations, it was an abuse of discretion for the WCJ in that case to award penalties for the period in which a request for supersedeas was pending before the board.” The court’s decision in Snizaski more than merely allows an employer to offer Candito as permissible grounds for a WCJ to deny a claimant’s penalty petition in situations where it fails to pay an award because a supersedeas request is pending. Rather, the court’s decision in Snizaski makes it an abuse of discretion for a WCJ to grant a penalty petition in those situations. Judge Rochelle S. Friedman dissented from the majority opinion on the grounds that the majority’s decision elevated an employer’s compliance with the board’s rules above an employer’s duties to pay under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The court took special notice that its opinion centered on the board’s rules as they existed at the time of employer’s request for supersedeas. However, the only substantive changes to the board’s rules do not appear to affect the applicability of the court’s reasoning in Snizaski. Prior to their recent amendment, the WCAB’s rules required the board to rule on the supersedeas request within 20 days of the date the answer is due or when the answer is filed, whichever occurs first. Now, the board must rule on the supersedeas request within 20 days from the date the answer is due (i.e. within 30 days after the request was filed). Utilizing the court’s decision in Snizaski, an employer can now wait up to 20 days to appeal an award, file a timely request for supersedeas with the board and wait the 30 days for the board’s ruling on its supersedeas request before it is obligated to pay the original award. The court did not address whether payment following a denial of supersedeas was due immediately or if a new 30-day period begins. If a new 30-day period does begin, the employer then actually has a total of 80 days within which to pay the original award. While claimants, and their counsel, will most likely bemoan the fact that their “quick on the draw” penalty petitions must now be denied (as their employers will just as fervently celebrate the court’s decision in Snizaski), workers’ compensation practitioners at least have a clearer picture of an employer’s duty to pay an award of benefits that is the subject of a proper and timely request for supersedeas. (Copies of the 12-page opinion in Snizaski v. WCAB (Rox Coal Co. ), PICS No. 04-0404, are available from The Legal Intelligencer . Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information. Some cases are not available until 1 p.m.) Lawrence Beck is an employee of JurisStaff Inc. and is presently contracted to the Law Offices of Robert F. Cerino, staff counsel to the Royal Indemnity Co..

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