Termination of PA Workers’ Comp Benefits Granted, Even When No Examination of All Accepted Injuries

Generally speaking, a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) is the sole determiner of credibility in PA workers’ comp matters. Testimony of any witness can be accepted, in whole or in part. Determinations of credibility by a WCJ cannot generally be overturned on appeal.

This issue was addressed by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Stancell v. Workers Compensation Appeal Board (LKI Group, LLC). In this case, the workers’ comp insurance carrier sent the injured worker for an Independent Medical Examination (IME; more realistically referred to as a “Defense Medical Exam,” as there is usually nothing “independent” about it). That doctor pronounced the injured worker fully recovered.

Based on this opinion, the workers’ comp insurance carrier filed a Petition for Termination. To win such a Petition, the carrier must prove that the injured worker has fully recovered from the entire work injury. In that litigation, the IME doctor admitted he did not examine one of the body parts which were injured (the lower right arm). Regardless, the IME doctor testified that the injured worker had fully recovered from the entire injury (he was asked, hypothetically, if she injured her lower right arm, whether that, too, was recovered). The WCJ found this testimony credible and granted the Petition for Termination.

This decision was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB). The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania also affirmed, finding the testimony of the IME doctor was “substantial competent evidence,” supporting the decision rendered by the WCJ. The Court noted that the injured worker’s treating doctor did not testify the lower right arm caused her any problem, and the IME doctor testified the injured worker made no complaints regarding her arm.

My only issue with this is that an injured worker is supposed to have no burden to prove anything in a Petition for Termination; yet, the Court suggests perhaps there would have been a different result if the injured worker’s doctor had testified differently. It appears as if the Court is placing a burden on the injured worker which does not belong.