Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, and throughout legal process generally, once a matter has been decided, the parties cannot try the matter again. This is called the concept of Res Judicata.
Often, for any of a number of reasons, an attorney representing an injured worker asks a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) to mark a pending Claim Petition “withdrawn, without prejudice.” This allows the injured worker to continue his fight another day. If a Claim Petition is dismissed “with prejudice,” it cannot be refiled. Obviously, this is a critical distinction.
In Boyertown Foundry and ESIS Wilmington WC v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal
Board (Martinez), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania dealt directly with this distinction. Here, the injured worker litigated a Claim Petition before a WCJ. Upon reviewing the evidence (both parties had presented evidence to the WCJ), the WCJ “denied and dismissed” the Claim Petition “with prejudice.”
The injured worker filed an appeal with the Workers’ Compensation Appeal
Board (WCAB), who affirmed the decision of the WCJ denying the Claim Petition, but modified the decision so that the Claim Petition was dismissed “without prejudice.”
An appeal was then filed by the PA workers’ comp insurance carrier to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. The Court found that the WCAB had erred, and reversed that portion of the WCAB decision. The Claim Petition was properly dismissed “with prejudice,” said The Court, because the matter was decided on its merits and cannot be refiled or relitigated at a later date. The Court then went on to note that a dismissal “without prejudice” can only come where a decision on the merits has not yet been reached. In that case, a Claim Petition can again be filed at a later date.