Specific Loss Benefits Require Medical Evidence in PA Workers’ Comp

An injured worker in Pennsylvania is generally entitled to be compensated for his or her lost wages (called “indemnity” benefits), and have medical expenses related to the work injury paid. When an injured worker loses the use of certain parts of the body, payment can also be obtained (this is called “specific loss” benefits). Included in “specific loss” benefits is compensation for scarring, or “disfigurement,” on the head, face or neck.

Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, in Section 306(c), there is a list of body parts, and how many weeks of workers’ compensation benefits an injured worker would receive for the loss of each. For example, the loss of a hand leads to a payment of 335 weeks of workers’ compensation benefits. A foot is 250 weeks. Other amounts are listed for forearm, leg, lower leg, eye and more. Payment for fingers depends upon which finger is involved (from 100 weeks for a thumb to 28 weeks for the little finger). The Act also includes some period of additional compensation, called a “healing period.” For example, the lost hand adds a healing period of 20 weeks and the lost foot leads to an additional 25 weeks. Compensation for scarring on the head, face or neck is completely within the discretion of the Workers’ Compensation Judge, who can award from zero to 275 weeks, depending on how disfiguring the scarring is felt to be.

To obtain specific loss benefits in PA workers’ compensation, an injured worker must show that the part of the body at issue has been “permanently” lost “for all practical intents and purposes.” The quoted portions above are usually where disputes exist, often requiring the decision of a Workers’ Compensation Judge.

While the testimony of the injured worker is important in determining whether there is a loss of use “for all practical intents and purposes,” according to a recent case decided by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, medical evidence must also be presented in support of the injured worker. In Jacobi v. W.C.A.B., decided by the Court on February 12, 2008, the claimant testified about how he is limited in using his right middle finger (which had been caught in a freight door and subject to three surgeries, the last of which involved the placement of a screw), but the claimant did not present any medical evidence which stated that the use of the finger has been lost “for all practical intents and purposes.” The Court reversed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Judge, who had awarded benefits to the claimant.