On our website, we have discussed the various types of benefits available under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (Act).  One of these types of benefits is known as “specific loss.”  This is the type of benefit available when a worker loses the use of a body part for “all practice intents and purposes.”  Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania dealt with the requirements of proving a “specific loss.”

In Morocho v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Home Equity Renovations, Inc.), the worker injured his thumb, index and middle fingers while using a table saw.  A Claim Petition was filed seeking, among other things, a specific loss of the index finger.

While litigating the case before the Workers’ Compensation Judge, the injured worker presented testimony from himself, and hospital records, showing that there was a significant injury to the index finger.  Specifically, in the post-operative note, the diagnosis was listed as “P1, P2 open fracture, partial tendon laceration, flexor digitorum profundus greater than 50% of the tendon width.”  Two pins were placed in the finger, then later removed, though significant damage to the finger, greatly limiting its use, remained.  A report from the treating physician observed that the injured worker “has effectively lost function of the index finger at this time for all intents and purposes.”  The insurance carrier doctor felt there was no loss of use.

Ordinarily, workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania is an “exclusive remedy.”  That means, the typical injured worker in PA cannot sue anyone for his or her injuries, and only has benefits under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) available.  There are exceptions when the injury was caused by the negligence of a third party (a party other than the employer).

However, as we have noted in the past, the Act is designed so that the injured worker receives none of the benefits of the damages recovered in the personal injury (“third party” case).  This concept is called “subrogation.”  We recently observed this happening to one of our clients.

One of our clients suffered significant injuries, which were caused by a third party.  A civil suit was filed (in addition to the workers’ compensation action).  This civil suit was handled by a law firm other than us (our firm limits its practice to PA workers’ compensation cases, though we can certainly refer clients to excellent attorneys for any aspect of the law).

We have discussed Section 204(a) of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) on this blog in the past.  This is the provision of the Act that provides a credit to the workers’ comp insurance carrier for certain other benefits an injured worker might receive, such as pension, social security retirement, unemployment compensation or severance.  While the Act may be specific on the credit due, the interpretation by the courts is puzzling.

In relevant part, Section 204(a) reads, “the benefits from a pension plan to the extent funded by the employer directly liable for the payment of which are received by an employee shall also be credited against the amount of the award made under [the Act].”  Given its ability to do so, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation then promulgated regulations on this offset, stating in pertinent part, “If the employe receives the pension benefit on a monthly basis, the net amount contributed by the employer and received by the employe shall be divided by 4.34.”  While not exciting, at least the language sounds clear.

In Harrison v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania dealt with this Section directly.  The injured worker had the option of two pensions to take, either the maximum amount of money (which would have created a monthly offset of $1,885.03) or a lesser amount of money which included a survivor benefit for his wife (which would leave a monthly offset of  $1,537.79).

One of the more disputed areas of workers’ compensation in PA, and therefore the source of many appellate decisions, is whether an employee is injured in the scope and course of his or her employment.  We have addressed scope and course of employment many times on this blog.  Recently, another of these cases came before the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

In Wilgro Services, Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Mentusky), the employee (Claimant) was an HVAC mechanic, working on the roof of a building.  To get to the roof, and back down, he had been using a ladder roofers had been using.  Unfortunately, one day he was the last one on the job, and the roofers had taken away the ladder.  After considering his options, Claimant elected to jump from the lowest part of the roof, perhaps 16 to 20 feet from the ground.  In so doing, Claimant suffered bilateral calcaneus fractures, left medial malleolus fracture, and lumbar spinal fractures at L-4 and L-5.

The workers’ compensation insurance carrier denied the claim, feeling this case was very similar to that of Pennsylvania State University v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Smith), which was previously discussed on this blog.  In that case, the employee decided to jump a flight of stairs on a whim and ended up with multiple fractures in both legs.

We have discussed the Notice of Temporary Compensation Payable (NTCP or TNCP) on this blog in the past.  This is a tool a Pennsylvania workers’ compensation insurance carrier can use if it is still investigating and unsure whether to formally accept liability for a work injury in PA (instead of issuing a Notice of Compensation Payable (NCP) or Agreement for Compensation).  Of course, as with many tools, it is most often misused and abused by insurance carriers, but that is a different blog for a different day.

The beauty of the NTCP for insurance carriers is that, within 90 days, the NTCP can be revoked, and the claim still denied.  A recent case in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania dealt with the timing of this type of revocation.

In Jones v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Villanova University), the injured worker (Claimant) allegedly suffered an injury to her knees at work.  The workers’ comp insurance company issued an NTCP on June 6, 2012.  Pursuant to the NTCP, a check for temporary total disability was issued by the carrier and received by Claimant on June 14, 2012.  This check was for the period of May 15, 2012 to June 6, 2012.  The day after the check was received by Claimant, June 15, 2012, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier issued a Notice Stopping Temporary Compensation (NSTC) and a Notice of Compensation Denial (NCD).

The fallout from the decision rendered by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in the Protz case is only just beginning.  Since this decision will change how workers’ compensation cases are handled in PA (at least for the moment), the PA Bureau of Workers’ Compensation has now issued a statement on the front page of its official website (WCAIS).  In its entirety, the statement reads:

On June 20, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its decision in Protz v. WCAB (Derry Area School District), Nos 6 WAP 2016, 7 WAP 2017, holding that Section 306(a.2) of the Workers’ Compensation Act (77 P.S. § 511.2) is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority.  The Court’s opinion makes clear that the entirety of Section 306(a.2) is unconstitutional.  Therefore, effective immediately, the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation will no longer designate physicians to perform Impairment Rating Evaluations.”

As the Protz decision has rocked the PA workers’ compensation system, we will be closely following developments.  Check our blog often for updates!

We have written volumes about the Impairment Rating Evaluation (IRE) process.  It would now appear all of those words just became moot with the decision rendered by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which ruled the entire IRE provision to be unconstitutional.

Back in September of 2015, we talked about the decision rendered by the Commonwealth Court of PA in Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Derry Area School District).  In that decision, the Court found that the IRE provision within the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) was unconstitutional in that the impairment rating was to be determined by the latest version of the American Medical Association (AMA) Guide to Disability.  The Court believed this to be an impermissible delegation of power.  While this delegation of power was struck down by the Court, the case was remanded (sent back) to the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ), to perform the IRE using the 4th edition (this was the edition which existed when the IRE provision was added to the Act).

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has now ruled that the Commonwealth Court was only correct in part.  Yes, said the highest court in the State, the delegation of power was indeed unconstitutional.  But, the Act does not contain any mention of using the 4th Edition of the AMA Guides.  A Court cannot rewrite a law.  Therefore, without a version of the AMA Guides to use, to measure an impairment rating, the entire IRE provision must be struck from the Act.

House Bill 18 has made it out of committee and is expected to be voted on early next week (Tuesday).  This bill would drastically change how injured workers in Pennsylvania would get their medications (and what medications they could get).  Basically, the Bill introduces “Evidence-Based Medicine” to PA workers’ compensation prescriptions.  This means that patients of a work injury would no longer be able to have care (or at least medicine usage) dictated by treating physicians; instead, the use of medications would be through established guidelines (amassing statistical data).  This, of course, ignores the simple fact that every patient is different and requires different care.  One cannot treat every person identically the same.

This could just be the first step in making “Evidence-Based Medicine” the care for every aspect of a work injury.  Imagine that your treating doctor is powerless to order care as he or she feels best, but is instead limited to what statistics say should be done for the majority of patients.  It is an absolute disgrace that Pennsylvania legislators think so little of injured workers to subject them to this kind of dangerous and substandard care.

Call your State legislators and tell them how you feel, before this Bill becomes reality!

As we have done in the past, our attorneys will be at the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Conference in Hershey, PA, on June 12th and 13th.  This is the one annual program run by the Bureau itself.  There is a large attendance by adjusters, risk management and safety officials, attorneys (from both sides of the fence) and Workers’ Compensation Judges from all across PA.

While we regret being out of town, and unable to serve our clients on these two days, we believe attending this seminar is beneficial to ultimately represent injured workers in Pennsylvania.  By listening to updates in case law and legislation, we stay current on trends and developments (as followers of our blog know, of course, we already stay pretty close anyway!).

Perhaps just as significant as the seminar, is hearing the topics being discussed by attorneys for the insurance carriers, and, even more so, the Workers’ Compensation Judges (WCJs).  It is invaluable to have some insight into how any particular situation, or any set of facts, will be viewed by our opponent, or by the WCJ.

On this blog we often discuss the beginning and ending of a workers’ compensation case in Pennsylvania.  This is a natural, and obvious, area of litigation.  However, there is also potential for dispute, and thus, litigation, when an injured worker goes back to work.  This is especially true where the injured worker remains under limitations, and there may or may not be partial disability benefits due.  Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision is this area.

In Holy Redeemer Health System v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Lux), a nurse (Claimant) suffered a back injury in the nature of lumbar sprain, facet arthropathy, and radiculitis while bending to care for a patient.  She was disabled from her pre-injury position (as a telemetry nurse) by this injury.  Since her employer had modified-duty work available within that department, the Claimant continued to work (with restrictions) and suffered no loss in wages.  The workers’ compensation insurance carrier accepted the claim on a medical-only basis.

While the injured worker continued to perform the modified-duty work, at no loss in wages, her employer created a permanent, available position in a different department and offered it to Claimant.  The employer did not force or require Claimant to leave her original modified-duty position.  This new position actually led to Claimant earning less money than in her modified-duty job in the other department.

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