Act 57 of 1996: The Turning Point of PA’s Workers’ Compensation

One of the most influential pieces of legislation affecting the Worker’s Compensation system in Pennsylvania is the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act itself, initially passed in 1915. This foundational law established the framework for the state’s Worker’s Compensation system, fundamentally changing how claims are processed, evaluated, and compensated.

However, for a more specific example of legislative change that has significantly impacted the system, we can look at amendments made to the Act over the years, with a notable one being the changes introduced in 1996 under Act 57.

While this piece of legislation steered some aspects of the process in the right direction, it also introduced new complexities. Individuals who sustained a workplace injury, especially a serious one, such as a back or neck injury, still require the assistance of lawyers in Allentown to navigate the system.

Act 57 of 1996: Major Amendments to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act

Act 57 of 1996 was designed to reform the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation system with the intention of reducing insurance premiums for employers while still maintaining fair benefits for workers injured on the job. It introduced several significant changes to how benefits are calculated and how disputes are resolved, among other aspects.

Pros of Act 57:

The Impact of Act 57
  • Cost Reduction for Employers: One of the main goals was to control and potentially lower Workers’ Compensation insurance premiums for employers, making the state more economically competitive. By introducing mechanisms for dispute resolution and encouraging the settlement of cases, it aimed to reduce the system’s overall costs.
  • Introduction of Impairment Rating Evaluations (IREs): Act 57 introduced the use of IREs to assess the degree of impairment due to a workplace injury. If a worker was found to be less than 50% impaired according to the American Medical Association guidelines, their benefits could be capped, encouraging return to work when possible.
  • Expansion of Vocational Rehabilitation Services: The Act aimed to facilitate the return to work for injured employees by expanding access to vocational rehabilitation services, potentially reducing the time workers spend out of work.
  • Strengthening of Safety Programs: It incentivized employers to adopt workplace safety programs by offering insurance premium discounts, contributing to a decrease in workplace injuries.

Cons of Act 57:

  • Controversy Over IREs: The use of IREs to cap benefits was highly controversial and seen by critics as detrimental to the welfare of severely injured workers. It placed a significant emphasis on a numerical threshold for impairment, which some argued did not adequately reflect a worker’s actual ability to return to work or live without the support of their benefits.
  • Potential for Reduced Benefits: While aiming to balance employer costs with fair worker compensation, critics argue that the changes might lead to reduced benefits for workers, particularly those with long-term or permanent disabilities.
  • Complexity and Litigation: The changes introduced by Act 57, particularly around IREs and the process for challenging these evaluations, added layers of complexity to the Workers’ Compensation process, potentially leading to increased litigation and difficulty for workers in navigating the system.

Legal Challenges and Adjustments

The implementation of IREs under Act 57 faced significant legal challenges, leading to notable decisions by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In 2017, the court case of “Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board” deemed the IRE provision unconstitutional because it delegated the General Assembly’s authority to the American Medical Association, which determines the impairment standards. This decision prompted further legislative and legal adjustments.

The Impact of Act 57

Act 57 of 1996 Major Amendments to the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act

Act 57 of 1996 represents a pivotal moment in the history of Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation system, reflecting the ongoing tension between controlling costs for employers and providing fair, adequate benefits for injured workers.

Its long-term impact illustrates the complexities of balancing these interests within a system designed to protect workers from the financial hardships of work-related injuries and illnesses.

Where to find well-versed back & neck injury lawyers near me in Allentown?

Liberty Bell is Allentown’s leading team of workers’ compensation attorneys, dedicated to providing personalized representation to injured workers throughout the region. Whether you need assistance filing the claim or assertive representation in and out of court, we possess the experience and expertise to see your case through to a beneficial conclusion. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation at our offices on Hamilton Street and let us ensure your rights are protected!