Finding of “Abnormal Working Conditions” by WCJ Upheld on Appeal

We have discussed psychological injuries many times in this blog, and bemoaned the additional requirement in Pennsylvania that the injury be caused by “abnormal working conditions” unlike a physical injury. For years, the appellate courts in Pennsylvania have been very strict against finding these “abnormal working conditions.” Often, as in a case we personally litigated, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) found these conditions, only to have the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) and/or Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reverse.

The good news is that the tide seems to now be turning the other way. First, the Payes case showed that even a police officer can be faced with “abnormal working conditions.” Now, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has rendered a decision in the Kochanowicz case, further clarifying what is required to prove a psychological injury in PA workers’ compensation.

As some of our loyal readers may recall, in the original Kochanowicz decision, the WCJ granted the Claim Petition, only to have the WCAB reverse and the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirm that reversal. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania then decided the Payes case. Based on the decision in the Payes case, the Supreme Court then remanded the Kochanowicz case back to the Commonwealth Court for a new decision, in light of the Payes case.

Looking at the WCJ decision in Kochanowicz in a whole new (and, to us, correct) way, the Commonwealth Court has now affirmed the decision of the WCJ, granting the Claim Petition. Essentially, the Court is now (as it should have always done) simply checking the evidentiary record to make sure that the findings of the WCJ, showing “abnormal working conditions,” can be supported by the evidence in the case. Here, the Court found sufficient evidence to uphold those findings by the WCJ.

This is, and the Payes case, represent critical decisions for injured workers in Pennsylvania. It appears the era of appellate courts substituting their findings for those of WCJs has now ended. And, we can only stand and applaud.