U.S. Airways Inc. can’t grab the money an injured employee won in a lawsuit over a motor vehicle accident without sharing in his legal costs, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Tuesday in a case from Pittsburgh federal court.

The airline paid $66,866 in medical bills for James McCutchen of East Liverpool, Ohio, after he was injured in a three-car accident in January 2007 on Route 60 near the Hopewell exit in Beaver County. McCutchen sued and settled for $100,000 from his own insurance company and $10,000 from the driver who caused the accident.

He paid $44,000 in attorney fees and ended up with $66,000. U.S. Airways demanded all of his share as a reimbursement under his employee medical plan.

U.S. District Judge David Cercone ruled in the airline’s favor, but the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Cercone that McCutchen’s contract allows the airline to recover its medical bills, but overturned his ruling that the airline wasn’t liable for any of McCutchen’s attorney fees.

Any other interpretation of the law “would put McCutchen $866 in the hole; in effect, he would pay for the privilege of serving as US Airways’ collection agent,” Justice Elena Kagan said in the majority opinion.

The Supreme Court remanded the case back to Cercone.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com. ___

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