Pennsylvania’s Heart And Lung Act Does Not Apply To Volunteer Firefighters

A Pennsylvania statute known as the Heart and Lung Act calls for the continuation of full salary and benefits when members of fire departments and law enforcement agencies are injured while in the line of duty. When Joseph Soppick, a volunteer firefighter for the George Clay Fire Company, was injured in the line of duty, he sought not only benefits under Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act, but also under the Heart and Lung Act.

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court turned away Soppick’s request. In the Court’s judgment, the Heart and Lung Act was a very different proposition than the Workers’ Compensation Act: “The Workers’ Compensation Act and the Heart and Lung Act are materially different statutes. Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, an employee who is totally disabled as a result of a work-related injury is entitled to receive 66 2/3% of his average weekly wage. The Workers’ Compensation Act is similar to accident insurance, and it seeks to provide compensation commensurate with damage from accidental injury as a fair exchange to the employee for relinquishing every other action against his employer. Thus, the Workers’ Compensation Act relieves the injured employee from the economic consequences of his injury and makes such consequences part of the employer’s cost of doing business.

“In contrast, the Heart and Lung Act is intended to serve the interest of the public employer, not the disabled employee, and is based on the theory that the promise of full income to employees in a hazardous industry could serve to attract qualified individuals to professions involving public safety. Additionally, the Heart and Lung Act grants full salary and continuation of employee benefits to eligible employees. The Heart and Lung Act explicitly and narrowly identifies 17 categories of employees, but it does not identify volunteers in any capacity as covered individuals. Because this statute is to be strictly construed, we are constrained from interpreting it as rendering Soppick a Borough employee for purposes of the Heart and Lung Act.”

Soppick v. Borough of West Conshohocken, 6 A.3d 22 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010).

This article appears in the February 2011 issue