Impairment Rating Evaluation Portion of PA Workers’ Compensation Act Unconstitutional

We have discussed Impairment Rating Evaluations (IRE) many times on this blog. Indeed, IREs are so prevalent in the Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation system, we even have a page devoted to the IRE process on our website. However, a decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania may change IREs in PA in a significant way.

Today, the case of M.A. Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Derry Area SD) was decided by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. In this decision, the Court declared that Section 306(a.2), which states that IREs are to be performed “pursuant to the most recent edition of the American Medical Association (AMA) ‘Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment,'” is unconstitutional. Essentially, the Court found that the legislature cannot delegate legislative authority to the AMA (since the legislature would not be reviewing or approving each new edition of the AMA Guide). When the IRE process was instituted, as part of Act 57, the AMA Guide was in its Fourth Edition (it is currently in its Sixth Edition).

The Court remanded the case back to the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ), for the WCJ to consider the IRE under the Fourth Edition (according to the Court, this would be the most recent edition actually reviewed by the legislature).

Several questions are unanswered at this point. First, will this decision be appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (almost certainly a request for appeal will be made, but the Supreme Court, unlike lower courts, has discretion whether to grant appeal or not). Second, what about the IREs now in the system – what becomes of them? Third, if the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act specifically states to use the most recent edition, and there was no mention whatsoever for the Fourth Edition to be used, why was that portion of the Act not simply struck down (instead of using the Fourth Edition).

While we are excited to see this unfair aspect of the Act narrowed, we will be watching future developments to see how this ends up.