Rieger v. W.C.A.B. (Barnes & Tucker Co.)

CourtCommonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Citation104 Pa.Cmwlth. 42,521 A.2d 84
Decision Date17 February 1987

Timothy P. Creany, United Mine Workers of America, Ebensburg, for petitioner.

Robert G. Rose, Johnstown, for respondents.

Before CRUMLISH, Jr., President Judge, COLINS, J., and BARBIERI, Senior Judge.

COLINS, Judge.

On December 18, 1981, Richard Rieger (claimant) suffered a compensable spinal injury during the course of his employment which resulted in a paraparesis of his legs. 1 Barnes and Tucker Company (employer) does not dispute that claimant's injury is one of total disablement, and that because of this injury he must use a wheelchair frequently and for long periods of time. The claimant is only able to walk up to two hundred feet using leg braces and crutches.

Because of the nature of the claimant's injury, an occupational therapist who visited the claimant's home recommended that certain adjustments be made in order to facilitate the claimant's ambulation in and around his home. These recommendations included the placement of bars and ramps in the bathroom and kitchen areas to facilitate the claimant's ability to enter and exit his wheelchair as necessary without the aid of another person, the widening of doorways to facilitate passage of the wheelchair, the placement of ramps in the rear entrance to claimant's home for the wheelchair to be able to enter the home, and an enlargement of the claimant's garage to allow placement of a ramp which would provide the claimant access to and from his car. In addition the claimant had hand controls installed in his automobile in order to enable him to drive. The claimant incurred bills in the amount of $433.02 for the remodeling of his home, and a bill of $359.34 for the installation of hand controls in his automobile.

The employer refused to pay these bills, and the claimant consequently filed a claim petition to recover his costs of remodeling and automobile hand controls. A workmen's compensation referee, after hearing evidence, issued an order on June 22, 1984, wherein he concluded that Section 306 of the Workers' Compensation Act (Act), Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended, 77 P.S. § 531, does not cover such costs. The Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) affirmed his decision on appeal. This appeal followed.

The sole issue before this Court, one of first impression, is whether the Act covers the aforementioned costs. This issue is one of law, and our scope of review includes all questions of law. Section 704 of the Administrative Agency Law, 2 Pa.C.S. § 704; Bowlaway Lanes v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Caparosa), 90 Pa.Commonwealth Ct. 534, 496 A.2d 99 (1985), Petition for Allowance of Appeal denied by Order of June 4, 1986, 725 W.D. Allocatur Docket 1985.

Section 306 of the Act, 77 P.S. § 531, specifically provides:

The following schedule of compensation is hereby established:

(1) The employer shall provide payment for reasonable surgical and medical services, services rendered by duly licensed practitioners of the healing arts, medicines, and supplies, as and when needed: ...


(4) In addition to the above services, the employer shall provide payment for medicines and supplies, hospital treatment, services and supplies and orthopedic appliances, and prosthesis.

As it is obvious that the claimant's home remodeling and automobile renovation do not fit under the definition of prosthesis, medicines, hospital treatment, or services, we must determine specifically whether they fit under either the definition of supplies or orthopedic appliances. 2

Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1594 (1966) defines "orthopedic" as "involving or affected by deformities or crippling." Furthermore, "appliance" is defined as "a tool, instrument or device specifically designed for a particular use." Id. at 105.

In construing the Act, we must keep in mind that being remedial in nature and intended to benefit the Pennsylvania worker, it must be liberally construed to effectuate its humanitarian objectives. 3 Krawchuk v. Philadelphia Electric Co., 497 Pa. 115, 439 A.2d 627 (1981).

No prior reported case has ever construed the terms "orthopedic appliances" or "supplies" before. It is certainly clear, however, that a wheelchair is, by common usage, an orthopedic appliance. It is undisputed that the claimant must use a wheelchair for much of his ambulation. It is likewise clear that all of the remodeling done upon the claimant's home was to permit him to utilize his wheelchair. There can be no doubt that bars placed within a bathroom and ramps leading to and from a home are certainly devices specifically designed for the particular use of wheelchair users. It is likewise certain that devices to aid in the use of wheelchairs fit within the above definition of "orthopedic." We must, therefore, conclude that the...

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29 cases
  • R & T Const. Co. v. Judge
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 1 Septiembre 1989
    ...Electric Corp. v. Choate, 417 So.2d 831 (Fla.App.1982), Pet. for Rev. dism., 429 So.2d 7 (Fla.1983); Rieger v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 104 Pa.Cmwlth. 42, 521 A.2d 84, 87 (1987) (If a "wheelchair is necessary, then it logically follows that minor modification needed to facilitat......
  • R & T Const. Co. v. Judge
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • 1 Septiembre 1990
    ...in the home of a claimant who could walk up to 200 feet on braces, but who otherwise used a wheelchair. Rieger v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 104 Pa.Commw. 42, 521 A.2d 84. The court said "that the intent of the Act is not that a claimant be forced either to rely upon the charity o......
  • Griffiths v. W.C.A.B.
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • 19 Marzo 2008
    ... ... WCAB (People's Natural Gas, 692 A.2d 623 (Pa. Cmwlth.1997)) ... retrofitting is an "orthopedic appliance" [citing Rieger v. Workmen's Comp. Appeal Bd. (Barnes & Tucker Co.), 104 ... ...
  • Young v. Dist. of Columbia Dep't of Emp't Servs.
    • United States
    • D.C. Court of Appeals
    • 3 Diciembre 2020
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