Riemenschneider v. D. Sabatelli, Inc.
David Scott Macleary was in the course and scope of his employment with D. Sabatelli, Inc. when the brakes failed on the dump truck he was operating, causing it to roll. Mr. Macleary sustained injuries, which led to his death, and he collected workers’ compensation benefits on the day he died.
Samantha Riemenschneider (“Samantha”), Mr. Macleary’s daughter, was appointed the administrator of Mr. Macleary’s estate, and she filed a complaint for civil damages alleging counts for negligence pursuant to the survival act and wrongful death. Riemenschneider v. D. Sabatelli, Inc., 2022 PA Super 105, No. 1842 EDA 2021. (Pa.Super, August 27, 2021). D. Sabatelli, Inc. filed preliminary objections in an effort to dismiss Samantha’s complaint based on the exclusivity provision of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”).
Samantha argued that the WCA’s exclusivity provision did not apply to her suit because she “is not within the class of individuals” entitled to seek relief under the WCA. More specifically, Samantha highlighted that pursuant to the provisions of the WCA, Mr. Macleary’s children did not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits because they were not: (1) under the age of 18; (2) disabled; and/or (3) a student under the age of 23. Samantha relied on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case of Tooey v. AK Steel Corp., 81 A.3d 851 (Pa. 2013), wherein the Court stated, it was “inconceivable” that the General Assembly “intended to leave a certain class of employees who have suffered the most serious work-related injuries without any redress under the Act or at common law.”
Notwithstanding Samantha’s arguments, the trial court agreed with D. Sabatelli, Inc., and dismissed Samantha’s complaint, citing Grabowski v. Carelink Cmty. Support Servs. Inc., 230 A.3d 465, 470-71, 473-74, 476, (Pa.Super. 2020), which held that a negligence action against employer was barred by exclusivity provision of the WCA.
On appeal to the Superior Court, Samantha argued that pursuant to Tooey, her claims fell “outside the purview” of the WCA, and therefore are not subject to the WCA’s exclusivity provision. She renewed her argument that although the WCA affords benefits to children, she was ineligible because she was over the age of 23 and not disabled. She further argued that because her father had no spouse, parent or sibling at the time of his death, there existed “no viable claimant” under the WCA’s provisions. See 77 P.S. §§ 561(5), (6) (providing that where no spouse or child is eligible for recovery, payments under the WCA may be made to parent or sibling). In contrast, Samantha asserted that the proceeds of a wrongful death action are to be distributed to the decedent’s spouse, children and parents. See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8301.
The Court examined Tooey, wherein the Supreme Court determined that the WCA’s exclusivity provision did not apply when the manifestation of an occupational disease fell outside the 300-week period. Specifically, the WCA provides: “[W]henever occupational disease is a basis for compensation, for disability or death under this act, it shall apply only to disability or death resulting from such disease and occurring within three hundred weeks after the last date of employment…” In Tooey, the parties disputed the meaning of proviso’s use of the word “it.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court held “it” referred to the WCA; and therefore the WCA did not apply. The Supreme Court indeed stated, “[i]t is inconceivable that the legislature, in enacting a statute specifically designed to benefit employees, intended to leave a certain class of employees who have suffered the most serious of work-related injuries without any redress under the Act or at common law.”
The Superior Court concluded that Tooey had little or no relevance to Samantha’s claims because unlike the plaintiff in Tooey, Macleary was a claimant, and his injury was a compensable injury under the WCA. The Court reasoned that the WCA plainly states that it provides compensation to children of the deceased employees, albeit “only if” they meet certain requirements. 77 P.S. §§ 561, 562. Thus, Samantha’s claim fell squarely within the purview of the WCA. The Court concluded that its decision did not “leave a certain class of employees who have suffered the most serious of work-related injuries without any redress under the Act,” because Samantha does not belong to a class of employees, but merely a class of potential beneficiaries, whom the WCA purposefully excluded from recovery. See Glenn v. State Workmen’s Ins. Fund, 2 A.2d 32, 34 (Pa.Super. 1938) (“The [WCA] was designed to aid those relatives of the deceased who were dependent upon and relied upon the support and aid of the decedent.”).