When one receives a decision issued by a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) in Pennsylvania, one has the right to file an appeal. The first level for this appeal is the PA Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB). For about the last 50 years, litigating an appeal before the WCAB has been unchanged. Starting July 11, 2022, however, there will be substantial changes taking place.
Until now, the person filing an appeal, formerly called the Appellant (now called the Petitioner), would file his or her brief (written argument) on or before the date of the oral argument. This oral argument would be held in person at various locations across the State of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Scranton and Erie). The Respondent (formerly called the Appellee) would typically submit his or her brief 30 days after the oral argument.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the entire PA workers’ compensation system into a largely virtual affair, there had been discussion of making oral argument before the WCAB into a virtual event. Since the virtual method ran so smoothly during the pandemic, the WCAB will be retaining this as the primary method of conducting oral argument.
A party still has the right to have oral argument in person, if so desired, but the opportunities will be fewer. The WCAB will now be conducting virtual oral argument twice a month, but only having live oral argument days once every other month at the various locations.
Additionally, the appeals process will now feature a “hot bench.” This means both the Petitioner, and the Respondent, must submit their briefs BEFORE oral argument. Indeed, not only must the briefs be submitted, but both sides must also file a one-page Summary of the Argument. So, the Petitioner’s brief (and Summary of the Argument) will be due within 30 days of the appeal, and the Respondent’s brief (and Summery) will be due within 30 days of the Petitioner’s brief. Further, when submitting the briefs, the parties will be selecting their desire with regard to the oral argument. The options are in-person, virtual, or waiving argument entirely. The WCAB also has discretion to make any hearing live, such as those for the viewing of scars.
You can see a more thorough explanation of these changes, which begin as of July 11, 2022, by viewing the WCAB’s official discussion.