When a work injury is denied by the workers’ compensation insurance carrier in PA, the injured worker must file a Claim Petition with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. The Claim Petition is then litigated before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ). To win a Claim Petition, usually the injured worker needs the WCJ to find both the injured worker, and his or her doctor, credible.
The testimony of the medical expert must be “unequivocal,” that the injured worker suffered a work-related injury, and has been disabled from work as a result of this injury. “Unequivocal” does not require 100% certainty (since nothing in life is 100% certain), but simply requires the doctor to believe that is the case.
A recent decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, Moyer v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB), addressed this issue. The WCJ in this case found Claimant and his doctor credible and granted the Claim Petition. However, the WCAB reversed the WCJ, finding the testimony of Claimant’s doctor to be equivocal.
The Claimant had a past medical history of low back problems, before the work injury, and the WCAB felt the testimony of Claimant’s doctor was based only on the fact there was an increase in pain just after Claimant lifted a bucket at work. The opinion of a doctor is equivocal if it assumes an injury is work-related just because it happens right after an event at work. Similarly, an opinion is equivocal if the doctor can only say the work event “could have” caused the disability.
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed the WCAB, and granted the Claim Petition. The Court noted that one cannot take a single statement of a witness out of context; instead, one must examine the testimony as a whole. When looked at in this way, the Court found the testimony of Claimant’s doctor was based on the history given by Claimant (found credible by the WCJ), and observed a difference in Claimant’s condition before and after the event at work. The doctor did not merely say the event “could have” caused the aggravation of his low back condition, the doctor testified the event “was” the cause of the aggravation. Considering all of this, the opinion of Claimant’s doctor was unequivocal.
Cases like this highlight the importance of getting the right testimony from medical witnesses. If the attorney is not familiar with PA workers’ comp law, the testimony obtained may not be sufficient to win a Claim Petition.