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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Lorenzetti, 467 U.S. 167 (1984)

United States v. Lorenzetti

No. 83-838

Argued April 23, 1984

Decided May 29, 1984

467 U.S. 167


Respondent, a Federal Government employee injured in an automobile accident in Pennsylvania while on official business, received payment from the Government under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA) for his medical expenses and lost wages. Under FECA, the Government is not liable for losses such as pain and suffering. Respondent subsequently instituted a tort action in a Pennsylvania state court against the driver of the other automobile. Such an action is generally limited under the Pennsylvania No-fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act to recovery for noneconomic losses like pain and suffering. After respondent eventually settled the case for a sum that represented compensation for noneconomic losses alone, the United States sought to be reimbursed for its FECA payments out of the settlement, asserting that it was entitled to reimbursement pursuant to the provision of FECA (5 U.S.C. 8132) prescribing that, whenever a federal employee suffers injury or death compensable under FECA "under circumstances creating a legal liability in a person other than the United States to pay damages," and the employee or his beneficiaries receive "money or other property in satisfaction of that liability as the result of suit or settlement," they "shall refund to the United States the amount of compensation paid by the United States." Respondent declined to pay over the requested sum and commenced an action in Federal District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Government's right of reimbursement under § 8132 was confined to recovery out of damages awards or settlements for economic losses of the sort covered by FECA, and that an award or settlement confined to noneconomic losses like pain and suffering was immune from recovery under § 8132. The District Court granted summary judgment to the United States, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: Section 8132 entitles the United States to be reimbursed for FECA compensation out of any damages award or settlement made in satisfaction of third-party liability for personal injury or death, regardless of whether the award or settlement is for losses other than medical expenses and lost wages. On its face, the statute does not confine the United States to the rights of a subrogee with respect to the specific classes of expenses paid by it to injured employees under FECA; instead, it expressly creates a general right of reimbursement that obtains chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 467 U. S. 168

without regard to whether the employee's third-party recovery includes losses that are excluded from FECA coverage. This reading of § 8132 is reinforced by the parallel terms of § 8131, which governs the right of the United States itself to prosecute an employee's third-party action. And nothing in FECA's legislative history establishes that § 8132 means something less than what it says. While no-fault automobile insurance statutes were not in existence when FECA was enacted in 1916, the possibility that third-party recoveries might encompass compensation for pain and suffering was well known, and Congress has not subsequently acted to restrict the types of third-party recoveries from which the United States may obtain reimbursement. Nor is there any inconsistency between the interpretation of § 8132 adopted here and the underlying purposes of the provision. Pp. 467 U. S. 173-179.

710 F.2d 982, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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