”Orthopaedic Appliances” Definition Under the Workers’ Compensation Act

In Rieger v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Barnes & Tucker Company), 104 Pa. Commw. 42, 521 A.2d 84 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1987), the Court reviewed the term "orthopedic appliances" in Section 306(f)(4) of the Workers' Compensation Act, 77 P.S. § 531.

In Reiger, Richard Reiger (Reiger) suffered a spinal injury that had been "diagnosed as a 12-L1 fracture and dislocation of the spine with partial tonuscanuda equinal injury." Id. at 85 n1n1.

Reiger underwent "surgery where he had a decompression laminectomy and fusion performed and Harrington rods inserted to add stability to the spine." Id. at 85.

As a result of Reiger's injury, an occupational therapist recommended "the placement of bars and ramps in the bathroom and kitchen areas . . . the widening of doorways to facilitate passage of the wheelchair, the placement of ramps in the rear entrance . . . an enlargement of the claimant's Reiger's garage and in addition hand controls installed in his automobile . . . ." Id. at 85.

These changes to the house cost $ 433.02 and to the automobile, $ 359.34. Barnes & Tucker Company (Company), the employer, refused to pay these bills and Reiger filed a claim petition.

The referee denied the petition and determined that these costs were not covered under Section 306 of the Act. the board affirmed.

On appeal, this Court reversed:

No prior reported cases 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 Reiger 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 remodeling done upon claimant's Reiger's home in the instant case is within the definition of 'orthopedic appliance.'

Likewise, we determine that hand controls in automobiles are, in the instant setting . . . qualify as an 'orthopedic appliance.'

The Board has clearly committed an error of law in excluding the claimant's Reiger's costs for remodeling and installation of hand controls. Rieger, 521 A.2d at 86.