In PA workers’ compensation, there is no limit to how long an injured worker can receive total disability benefits. Once an injured worker receives total disability benefits for a period of 104 weeks, however, the workers’ comp insurance company can request the injured worker attend an Impairment Rating Evaluation (IRE). Similar to an Independent Medical Examination (IME, more practically known as a Defense Medical Examination, DME), a physician conducting an IRE will examine the injured worker.
Based on that examination, the IRE physician will calculate the whole body impairment rating. The rating is to include only the effects of the work injury. If the whole body impairment rating is found to be less than 50%, then benefits are changed from total to partial (though the amount of benefits received should not change). We have discussed the IRE process in previous blog entries.
Today, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision in the matter of Johnson v. WCAB (Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board). This decision deals with what can be challenged in an impairment rating, once the status is changed from total to partial.
The Claimant in Johnson received a Notice of Change of Workers’ Compensation Disability Status when an IRE showed a 15% whole body impairment rating. She did not file an appeal to this Notice. About a year later, Claimant filed a Petition to Review alleging the IRE was faulty (because the IRE physician was not qualified to perform an IRE on her type of injury).
According to the Court, since Claimant failed to file an appeal of the Notice of Change of Workers’ Compensation Disability Status, Claimant could not challenge the validity of the IRE itself, and her Petition to Review should have been dismissed. Indeed, the Court found that a prerequisite to filing a Petition to Review in such a case is that the injured worker have a determination from a doctor that there is an impairment rating equal to, or greater than, 50 percent. In other words, all that an injured worker can challenge at that time is whether the total disability has recurred.
Once again, we are reminded of the permanent effects an injured worker in PA can suffer if time periods under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act are not followed. Sometimes, as in this case, not even an experienced PA workers’ comp attorney can fix what has happened. It is for reasons such as this that we urge every injured worker in Pennsylvania to have the benefit of representation by a knowledgeable PA workers comp attorney.