Heart and Lung Act and Collateral Estoppel In Pennsylvania

In Yonkers v. Donora Borough, 702 A.2d 618 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1997), the Court recognized that when a claimant's benefits have been terminated under the Workers' Compensation Act, the principle of collateral estoppel precludes that claimant from receiving benefits under the Heart and Lung Act. In that case, a workers' compensation judge terminated the claimant's benefits, and the claimant appealed. While that appeal was pending, a hearing was conducted by the employer to determine whether the claimant's Heart and Lung Act benefits should also be terminated. Employer determined that the Workers' Compensation Judge's (WCJ) decision was conclusive as to the claimant's disability and determined that the claimant was able to return to work. The claimant appealed the employer's decision to the court of common pleas, and employer filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer asserting that the WCJ's decision collaterally estopped the claimant from relitigating the nature of his disability. The court of common pleas agreed with the employer and dismissed the claimant's appeal. On appeal to this Court, the claimant did not argue that the four factors for the application of collateral estoppel did not apply. Rather, the claimant argued that the decision of the WCJ was not a final judgment for the purposes of collateral estopped because he filed a timely appeal with the Board. In our decision, we cited Kohut and recognized that issues decided in a proceeding involving Heart and Lung Act benefits are binding in a subsequent workers' compensation proceeding on the basis of collateral estoppel. In addition, the Court disagreed with the claimant that the WCJ's decision was not final. Accordingly, because the decision of the WCJ was a final decision, we held that the principle of collateral estoppel did apply and we affirmed the order of the court of common pleas.