Key point 8-02. All states have enacted workers compensation laws to provide benefits to employees who are injured or become ill in the course of their employment. Benefits generally are financed through insurance premiums paid by employers. Churches are subject to workers compensation laws in most states.
* A Pennsylvania court ruled that the widow of a man who suffered a heart attack as a result of stress he experienced while working at a church was entitled to workers compensation benefits. A man suffered a heart attack while performing repairs at a church, and his heart attack eventually led to his death. The deceased worker’s widow filed a claim for workers compensation, in which she requested compensation for her husband’s death plus an additional $256,000 to reimburse Medicare for monies it expended for medical care of the worker following the accident. A workers compensation judge ruled that the widow had proven that her husband’s activities at work substantially contributed to his heart attack, and therefore she was entitled to benefits.
Application. This case demonstrates an important principle. While most church leaders continue to believe that churches are “exempt” from state workers compensation laws, the opposite is often the case. Failure to purchase workers compensation insurance can result in a significant uninsured risk, as this case illustrates. In the case of a fatality, the damages can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Merva v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, 784 A.2d 222 (Pa. App. 2001).
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