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Expanded Description of Injury No Benefit to Injured Worker, Says Commonwealth Court of PA

In a very disturbing decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, in Watson v. W.C.A.B. (Special People in Northeast), reported by the Court on May 30, 2008, the injured worker was denied reimbursement of litigation costs, even though the injured worker was successful in part of her Claim Petition.

Claimant filed a Claim Petition three days after her injury (a fact for which the injured worker was chided by the Court, who, seemingly would prefer the injured worker sit and wait with no assurance her claim would ever be accepted by the workers’ comp insurance carrier). An Answer was filed by the workers’ comp insurance carrier admitting Claimant suffered a head contusion in the work injury.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge eventually found the doctors offered by the workers’ comp insurance carrier more credible and denied the wage loss aspect of the Claim Petition (Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, no wage loss benefits are payable unless there are more than seven days of disability; here the Workers’ Compensation Judge found only three days of disability).

As to the medical benefits, the Workers’ Compensation Judge found medical benefits were payable until the date the workers’ comp insurance carrier’s medical expert said Claimant was fully recovered from her injury. The Workers’ Compensation Judge found, based on the workers’ comp insurance carrier’s medical expert, that the injury was a concussion (not a contusion). Since the Claimant won, at least in part, the Workers’ Compensation Judge awarded Claimant reimbursement of litigation costs.

Both sides appealed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Judge. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) affirmed the majority of the decision, but reversed the award of litigation costs.

Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, Section 440(a), litigation costs are to be reimbursed by the workers’ comp insurance carrier when Claimant is successful in the litigation “in whole or in part.”

The Commonwealth Court of PA affirmed the decision of the WCAB. The Court found no appreciable difference between a head contusion and a concussion in this case (an opinion, I doubt, would be shared by anyone who has suffered a concussion). Indeed, since the Court found there would be no medical treatment needed for one that was not done for the other in this case, “Claimant does not assert that the injury description resulted in any financial benefit to her.” I do not recall any requirement in the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act that medical benefits lead to a “financial benefit” to the injured worker. This seems to be just another example of the battle faced by the injured worker in PA.

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