Modification in PA Workers’ Comp, Based on IRE, Does Not Require Job Availability Shown

Back in October, 2009, we noted that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania accepted the appeal (or, as formally said, “accepted allocatur”) in the matter of Diehl v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (I.A. Construction).

This is the case where the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania first found that a PA workers’ compensation insurance carrier had to show job availability if a change of disability status is requested (changing from total disability to partial) as a result of an Impairment Rating Evaluation (IRE), if the IRE is not requested within 60 days of the expiration of 104 weeks of total disability benefits. An “en banc” (all of the Judges on the Court, rather than just the usual panel of three) decision by the Commonwealth Court reversed the Court’s initial decision, and found that no job availability need be shown in this situation.

The Supreme Court of PA recently affirmed the en banc decision of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. According to the PA Supreme Court, the crucial element is that “impairment” and “disability” are two very different things. Since the PA Workers’ Compensation Act refers only to the “impairment rating” (in this Section of the Act), and does not mention disability, the Court concluded that the Legislature did not intend to make the earning power of an injured worker an issue in IRE cases; instead, the issue in an IRE case is simply the injured worker’s degree of impairment. As such, there is no need for the PA workers’ compensation insurance company to present evidence on job availability to get a modification of workers’ comp benefits as a result of an IRE.