Articles Posted in Workers Comp Appeals

Back in August, 2016, we discussed the case of City of Philadelphia Fire Department v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Sladek).  For those who do not recall, this was the case (well, one of several recent cases actually) which determined that a firefighter must prove the cancer he or she developed was of a type caused by the listed carcinogen, before the firefighter could use the presumption in Section 108 (making the obtaining of workers’ compensation benefits easier for the firefighter).  The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania had vacated the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ), which granted the Claim Petition.

While an aggrieved party has the right to appeal any decision of a WCJ to Commonwealth Court (after first appealing to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB)), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has the power to decide which appeals it will accept.  The fact the Court has now accepted appeal in this matter suggests that they wish to clarify the reading of Section 108(r).  Which way they will find is anyone’s guess at this point, though we will be following the developments closely.

According to a memo released by Alfonso Frioni, Jr., Esquire, Chairman of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB), Commissioner Susan M. McDermott has decided to retire after spending over twenty years on the WCAB, including a stint as the very first female Chairperson of the WCAB.  The entire text of the memo is:

On behalf of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, we extend our special thanks and congratulations to Commissioner Susan M. McDermott on her retirement from the Board.

Commissioner McDermott was appointed to the Appeal Board by Governor Tom Ridge in 1996, serving over twenty years until her recent retirement in January 2017.  Susan was one of the first two women appointed to the Board in its one-hundred-year history, and was the very first woman Chairperson of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board serving from 1996 to 2010.  Susan’s contributions to the professionalism of the Board were extensive with her instituting many of the Board’s internal operating procedures, particularly with regard to the circulation of opinions, adopted from The Commonwealth Court.

As we discussed back in September, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania rendered an important decision for the IRE process when the Court decided the matter of M.A. Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Derry Area SD).  The delegation of power by the PA legislature, as we noted, was found to be unconstitutional.  We were left with several questions, the main one being whether appeal would be accepted by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

The answer to this question has now been found – the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has accepted the appeal filed by both sides.  The issues to be decided can be seen here and here.

We look forward to the clarification by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and we hope that the decision rendered answers most, if not all, of our remaining questions.  We will certainly report of this development when it happens.

Recently, we attended a seminar to be briefed on changes in the rules, formally known as the Special Rules of Administrative Practice and Procedure before Workers’ Compensation Judges or the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (each has a separate set of rules). Since our practice is limited to representing injured workers in Pennsylvania workers’ compensation cases, it is critical that we be aware of all aspects of the system.

Perhaps it would be wise first to understand where the Rules of Administrative Practice and Procedure fit into the system. As we have mentioned before in this blog, workers’ compensation laws vary widely from State to State. Here, the law starts with the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, which was created back in 1915 and amended many times since. This law, and its amendments, were written and enacted by the PA legislature. The law is then interpreted by the appellate courts in Pennsylvania. The process by which we litigate these cases, through the Workers Compensation Judge (WCJ) and Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB), are dictated by these Rules of Administrative Practice and Procedure.

Included in the changes to the Rules of Administrative Practice and Procedure before Workers’ Compensation Judges are how cases are litigated against the Uninsured Employers’ Guaranty Fund (UEGF), the fund that is available when an employer fails to carry PA workers’ comp insurance. There were also changes or amendments to what must be contained within Stipulations of Fact, to the timing of the serving of subpoenas, to the availability of a motion like a Motion for Summary Judgment (as in civil law), and changes to initial hearing procedures and pleadings.

As attorneys who limit their practice to representing the injured worker in PA workers’ comp cases, we are thrilled by the recent announcement that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has approved the process of creating a “certified workers’ compensation attorney” in Pennsylvania (or, in other words, a workers’ compensation specialist).

We have seen the damage done to cases when an injured worker trusts a general practitioner to handle a Pennsylvania workers’ comp case. The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act is a complicated piece of legislation. As loyal readers of our blog know, this is a frequent topic of cases decided by the appellate courts in PA. Trusting a workers’ compensation case to an attorney not experienced in that area of law is akin to having an orthopedist handle your coronary artery bypass surgery. Just not a good idea.

A work-related injury can cause tremendous disruption, and loss, to both the injured worker and his and her family; we are thrilled that in the near future, that injured worker can have the confidence that he or she is selecting a “certified workers’ compensation attorney.” We, of course, look forward to becoming “certified workers’ compensation attorneys” as soon as the process for the testing and certification is completed.

Over the years, we have had blog entries on many different topics of interest to the injured worker in PA. One theme we have never dealt with, however, is the emotionally-charged area of politics. While we generally try to avoid politics, we would be remiss if we did not comment about one of the candidates for Judge on the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

As loyal readers of our blog know, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania is the next appellate level, above the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB). This Court must address many issues directly impacting the lives of injured workers in PA. Judges on this Court are elected in the general election. We believe it is important for voters to be informed, allowing them to make the best decisions possible.

One of the candidates for Commonwealth Court Judge in the election coming up on November 8 is Kathryn Boockvar. Back in June of this year, we attended the 10th Annual Workers’ Compensation Conference in Hershey, PA, which is presented by The Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. In addition to the many attorneys who practice in the area of PA workers’ comp, we noticed Ms. Boockvar in attendance. We were both impressed and encouraged that Ms. Boockvar was interested enough in the PA workers’ compensation system to attend such an event. In addition to her obvious interest in workers’ compensation, her resume shows that she spent much of her career representing disabled individuals.

Previously, we posted a blog entry on the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania decision in Phoenixville Hospital v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Shoap). This was the decision where the Commonwealth Court was unmoved when the injured worker applied for every job in a Labor Market Survey and found none available to him. The Court said the workers’ compensation insurance carrier can still obtain a Modification or Suspension of workers’ comp benefits in this situation.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania accepted appeal in this matter on April 27, 2011. We will certainly keep our readers informed when the Supreme Court of PA reaches a decision.

Back in October, we blogged about the decision of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in City of Pittsburgh v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Robinson), which addressed what caused a presumption that an injured worker “retired,” entitling the workers’ comp insurance carrier to a suspension of workers’ compensation benefits.

The decision of the Commonwealth Court arguably made a murky area of the law even more confusing, but it also attempted to inject some compassion and logic into an aspect of law short on both.

For better or worse, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has accepted an appeal in this matter. Specifically, the issue for the Court to determine is:

Some time ago, we made a brief deviation from our normal course of not blogging about own active cases, to discuss a liquor store clerk who was robbed at gunpoint. The PA Liquor Control Board (LCB) denied the claim, stating that being robbed at gunpoint was not an “abnormal working condition” for a PA LCB clerk (remember that the next time you think of stepping into a State Store in Pennsylvania – armed robbery is simply accepted as a normal course of a day by management). We filed a Claim Petition on the clerk’s behalf and litigated the case.

We are pleased to report that the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) did not buy Defendant’s argument, and did not believe that society has degraded far enough such that a clerk can expect armed robbery on his or her normal day at work. In granting our Claim Petition, the WCJ rejected the Defendant’s attempt to expand the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania’s disastrous decision in of McLaurin v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (SEPTA), wherein the Court, in its infinite wisdom, found that a SEPTA driver’s normal workday includes being assaulted by a gun-wielding teen (sending the message, as we understand it, that anyone foolish enough to step on a SEPTA vehicle can expect to face such consequences).

Undaunted, however, the PA LCB has filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB). It appears the PA LCB’s argument is that the WCJ was incorrect and Pennsylvania liquor stores are just as deadly as SEPTA vehicles (how very proud they must feel while making these arguments). We find it amazing, not to mention disheartening, that our own governmental agencies would be stooping to such disgraceful antics to deny a case. Rather than address what they clearly view as a “normal working condition,” perhaps by improving security methods, the PA LCB instead is trying to use its stubborn ignorance and incompetence as a basis to deny an injury to one of its own employees. How can one put any word other than “disgraceful” on that?

When an aggrieved party wants to appeal a decision of a Workers’ Compensation Judge in PA, the first step is to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB). Until recently, the WCAB was comprised of a total of 15 commissioners, who would travel throughout the State of Pennsylvania, holding oral arguments in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Scranton, Johnstown and Erie.

Unfortunately, due to budget difficulties faced by PA, the total of 15 commissioners on the WCAB has been drastically reduced. Right now, only five commissioners remain. Apparently, there will be another three commissioners named, when they are approved by the PA Senate.

This reduction in staffing is almost certain to have a negative effect on the speed with which WCAB decisions are issued. While we would love to provide a link for more information, there has been no official word on this development from the PA Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (other than to change the listed commissioners to the current total of five).

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