Since our entire practice is limited to representing injured workers in PA workers’ compensation cases, we occasionally get a call from an injured worker who has already lost their case with another attorney, and wanting us to handle an appeal. Unfortunately, frequently, there is nothing we can do to help at that point.
Once a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) renders a decision, provided it is a “reasoned decision” (generally that is defined as a decision which is capable of appellate review), only an “error of law” can be properly appealed. The determinations of credibility, and findings of fact, rendered by the WCJ are not usually subject to appeal.
This concept was recently reinforced by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Shannopin Mining Company v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Sereg). Essentially, when a WCJ makes findings of fact, and explains the basis for determinations of credibility, an appellate Court, whether the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) or the Pennsylvania Court System, cannot “second guess” those determinations of credibility, or substitute their own determinations of credibility. Even if the appellate body feels they would have decided the case differently, the determinations of the WCJ are final and binding. This, of course, highlights the importance of litigating the case before the WCJ.