When we litigate a Claim Petition, to obtain PA workers’ compensation benefits for one who is injured at work, we must prove that the person was hurt while in the scope and course of his or her job, and that such injury renders the person disabled. Almost always, this requires the testimony of a medical expert (usually the treating doctor). The opinion the doctor provides must be to a “reasonable degree of medical certainty.” What does that phrase mean? Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recently examined that very thing.
In PetSmart, Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Sauter), the injured worker alleged that he had hurt his low back while doing his job. A Claim Petition was filed, and the matter was litigated before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ). In support of the Claim Petition, the injured worker presented expert medical testimony, from his treating physician, that “he had discogenetic [sic] low back pain, as well as nerve symptomatology of indeterminate etiology” and that it was his “presumption” that it was related to work. Finding the injured worker, and his medical expert, credible, the WCJ granted the Claim Petition. This was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB).
Upon further appeal, however, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed the decision of the WCJ. While the Court was quick to point out that there are no “magic words” that need to be used by a medical expert, and that an appellate court is “not permitted to pick one or two sentences out of context,” the Court concluded that the testimony of the injured worker’s medical expert did not rise to the level of “reasonable degree of medical certainty,” and could not support the granting of the Claim Petition.
The opinion rendered by the injured worker’s medical expert found the condition “of indeterminate etiology,” and said it was his “presumption” that it was work-related. This, said the Court, is insufficient to rise to the level to support the burden of proof inherent in a Claim Petition. The Court then concluded, “Therefore, this Court is constrained to conclude that Dr. Porter’s statements do not unequivocally establish that the back pain or nerve symptomatology Claimant suffered was in fact a result of the alleged work injury.”
While this kind of result can happen no matter which attorney you choose, there are ways to maximize your chances of success. These kinds of cases serve as reminders of how important it is to litigate a PA workers’ compensation correctly the first time around. The injured worker does not get a second try.