PA Workers’ Compensation Judge has Ultimate Ability to Render Credibility Determinations

The Pennsylvania appellate courts have consistently determined that a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) is the final arbiter of credibility in a PA workers’ compensation case.  Short of finding that a credibility determination by the WCJ is “arbitrary and capricious,” these determinations are to be accepted by the courts.  This makes sense, since it is the WCJ who actually sees and evaluates the witnesses and the evidence directly.

Every once in a while, though, a WCJ’s credibility determinations are challenged on appeal, often by casting the attack in a different light.  Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania stopped such an effort by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) in the case of Lawry v. County of Butler (Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board).

In Lawry, the WCJ heard the testimony of the injured worker and reviewed the medical evidence, and largely denied the insurance carrier’s Petition to Terminate benefits.  To be specific, the WCJ found that the injured worker had fully recovered from “right thumb strain/sprain and right ulnar collateral ligament tear.”  Importantly, though, the WCJ also “determined that Employer failed to meet its burden of proving that Claimant fully recovered from her RSD/CRPS.”

On appeal, the WCAB reversed the decision of the WCJ.  While the WCJ found the defense medical expert not credible regarding the recovery of the RSD/CRPS, the WCAB held this determination arbitrary and capricious.  The WCAB leaned on the statement by the WCJ that the defense expert had failed to reference the “Budapest Criteria,” noted to be the “gold standard” for diagnosing RSD/CRPS by a medical expert in an unrelated case.

Upon further appeal, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed the WCAB, and said the WCJ’s credibility determinations had sufficient support in the evidentiary record.  As noted above, the Court recited that the WCJ is the ultimate Finder of Fact, and such determinations should not be disregarded absent a conclusion that such findings were arbitrary and capricious.  The Court reviewed the specific Finding of Fact at issue and noted that the mention of the “Budapest Criteria,” while incorrect, was only part of the basis in finding the defense expert not credible.

There was also mention of the surveillance evidence touted by the defense expert, as well as conflicting medical findings from the treating physician.  Notably, this WCJ also decided a previous Petition for Termination, so he had knowledge of the injured worker from that matter.  The Court related that determinations of credibility are to be read as a “total package,” reviewed as a whole, in the context of the entire evidence of the case.

When the Court examined the entire record, there was no doubt the determinations of credibility made by the WCJ were not arbitrary and capricious.  As the Court explained, the credibility determination of the defense expert was:

“ . . . based on, inter alia, his extensive knowledge of the case from presiding over previous Termination Petitions, Dr. Goitz’s heavy reliance on surveillance videos which he used to support his physical examination and opinions, Dr. Anand’s credible, convincing, and persuasive medical records, and Claimant’s medical evidence. Although WCJ Steiner may have misstated the Kesselring Court’s footnote regarding the Budapest criteria, viewing WCJ Steiner’s reasoning as a whole, this Court cannot hold that the credibility determination of Dr. Goitz is arbitrary and capricious . . . “

As such, the Court reversed the decision of the WCAB, and reinstated the original decision rendered by the WCJ.


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