Pennsylvania Court Rules on Medical Marijuana: Employers Can Reimburse Employees
April 5, 2023
Earlier this month, a Pennsylvania state appellate court issued a pair of rulings declaring that employers are required to reimburse claimants for out-of-pocket costs for medical marijuana. The decision marks a legal milestone for injured workers who rely on state-approved medical cannabis to treat their work-related injuries and/or illnesses.
A Brief Breakdown on Occupational Injuries in Pennsylvania
Thousands of hardworking Pennsylvanians sustain job-related injuries every year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 170,000 cases of occupational injuries in one of its most recent reports. Some of the injuries that general industry employees most commonly sustain while working include:
- Overexertion injuries resulting in trauma to the upper torso and/or limbs
- Sprain/strain injuries
- Back injuries, some of which result in partial or complete paralysis
- Injuries to multiple parts of the body
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) like concussions and other types of head trauma
Some injuries that workers sustain cause chronic (long-term or recurring) complications. Sometimes, an individual’s injuries inflict permanent effects. While it is by no means a rare occurrence for a medical professional to prescribe pain medications like opioids to an injured worker to manage his or her pain, in recent years more and more injured workers – in addition to the healthcare providers who treat them – are opting to address these complaints with medical cannabis instead. The Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act (“MMA”) lists 21 medical conditions that qualify for medical marijuana. They include:
- Chronic Pain
- Crohn’s disease
What the Ruling Means for Workers in Pennsylvania
In the 5-2 majority ruling, the Commonwealth Court said that employers are required to reimburse an injured worker’s out-of-pocket medical marijuana costs. So, for Pennsylvania workers with active workers’ compensation claims, (workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that provides wage replacement and medical benefits to workers who sustained injuries or became ill on the job) there is now a clearer legal pathway for obtaining reimbursement for the financial costs related to their medical marijuana prescription.
The Commonwealth Court was required to interpret the interaction between the MMA, that states that nothing in the MMA shall require an insurer or health plan to provide coverage for medical marijuana, and the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, that requires employers to pay for reasonable and necessary medical conditions related to their work-related injuries. According to Judge Anne E. Covey, who wrote the majority opinion in the first of the two medical cannabis cases, there is no language in the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act, or MMA, that precludes a workers’ compensation carrier, like an employer, from covering medical marijuana. However, the Workers’ Compensation Act mandates employers to reimburse claimants for out-of-pocket costs of medical treatment which has been found reasonable and necessary for their work-related injury. Therefore, the employer was required to reimburse the claimant for his out-of-pocket costs for medical marijuana. So, for injured workers who find relief for their physical pain through the supervised use of approved medical marijuana, the court’s decision should give them some peace of mind about their healthcare-related expenses. Medical treatments are never inexpensive and medical cannabis is by no means an exception to the rule. For example, some workers’ compensation attorneys in the state say that cost is one of the most prohibitive barriers for injured workers who decide to use medical marijuana as opposed to more conventional pain treatments, like opioids or other prescription painkillers.
Were You Injured in a Work-Related Accident?
If you were injured in a work-related incident and use approved medical marijuana to treat complications from your injury or injuries and have questions about reimbursement through your employer, someone at our firm can help. At Galfand Berger, our attorneys have decades of experience representing victims of workplace accidents. Here are just a few examples of our firm’s notable workers’ compensation recoveries:
- Our client, a masonry worker, suffered electrical burns when the boom of his rental aerial lift accidentally came into contact with a telephone pole next to the residential house on which he was working. Galfand Berger attorney and senior partner Richard Jurewicz was able to obtain a pre-suit settlement of $1,750,000 for our client, which was one of the largest pre-suit settlements ever to occur in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania.
- After a tractor-trailer rear-ended our client on an interstate in central PA, he sustained significant back injuries and was unable to return to work. While he was out of work, our attorneys ensured that all of his medical costs were paid for and that he was receiving the maximum amount of workers’ compensation benefits as allowed by the law. Our team of attorneys were able to settle two cases – a personal injury case and a workers’ compensation case – on behalf of our injured client for a sum of $820,000.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP, Representing Injured Victims Since 1947
If you have questions about filing a claim for injuries you sustained, contact the Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP today. Call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or fill out our online form for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.