The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act allows a workers’ comp insurance carrier to obtain an “Independent Medical Examination” (IME) [Which, of course, is usually anything but “Independent”] at “reasonable” intervals. If an injured worker refuses to attend an ordered IME, a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) can suspend the injured worker’s benefits under Section 314(a). This was usually interpreted to mean “indemnity” or wage loss benefits, as opposed to medical benefits. Whether medical benefits could be suspended was an open question.
In Giant Eagle v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Givner), decided by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recently, this issue was addressed. The workers’ compensation insurance carrier asked the WCJ to suspend compensation benefits of an injured worker who refused to attend a court-ordered IME. The WCJ issued a decision, granting the request of the insurance carrier, that “compensation benefits” be suspended until the injured worker attends the IME. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) agreed and affirmed the decision.
On appeal, the workers’ comp insurance carrier asked that medical benefits be suspended along with the indemnity benefits. The insurance carrier argued that the injured worker should be deprived of all compensation for failing to attend the ordered IME. This position was rejected by the Court, which held that medical benefits are separate from indemnity benefits, and are not included in the term “compensation.” The Court found that, in this case, medical benefits are not suspended because the decision of the WCJ cited only “compensation.”
Note though, in the “dicta” (a finding of a court which is not relevant to the “holding” of a case), the Court states that the ability to suspend both indemnity benefits AND medical benefits is within the “sound discretion of the WCJ” and will be upheld unless abuse of discretion is shown. This, the Court said, allows the WCJ to uphold the purpose of the PA Workers’ Compensation Act, which could be frustrated by an injured worker, with benefits already suspended, continuing to receive medical benefits while evading a court-ordered IME.