PA High Court Orders Disability Repayment

December 4, 2002 ( - A Pennsylvania man has to repay money he received from disability claims from the funds he won in a legal malpractice lawsuit, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled for the first time.

According to the six-page opinion authored by Chief Justice Stephen Zappala, William Poole worked as a wholesale canvasser for Warehouse Club Inc. when he slipped and fell on ice in his employer’s parking lot and aggravated a pre-existing back problem, according to a Legal Intelligencer report.

At the time of the accident in March 1989, Poole made an average weekly wage of $155.87.

Quoting the Zappala ruling, the Intelligencer presented this case background:

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Poole was awarded workers’ compensation for temporary and total disability in the amount of $140.28 per week. Poole was paid more than $50,000 for partial disability and more than $20,000 for unreimbursed medical expenses.

In May 1995, Poole filed a legal malpractice action against his previous lawyer alleging that the lawyer was negligent by filing suit against the wrong parties in a third-party complaint.

The third-party suit was filed against Kossman Development and Paul Kossman because Poole’s counsel believed that they owned the property where Poole fell. A judge dismissed the complaint, finding the parties were, in fact, not the proper defendants in the case. Poole could not refile the case against the proper defendants because the two-year statute of limitations had expired.

Travelers Insurance Co. requested it get paid back out of any money Poole received as a result of the legal malpractice action. Poole denied the insurance company’s subrogation request because no workers’ compensation lien existed in the legal malpractice action.

Poole settled the case in July 1998, and his current counsel refused to provide Warehouse and Travelers with any information about the settlement, asserting the confidentiality clause precludes a release of such information.

A workers’ compensation judge, however, ruled that both Warehouse and Travelers were entitled to money back from the legal malpractice case award and ordered disclosure of the settlement amount. Poole appealed.