Termination Petition Requires Proof of Actual Change of Condition in PA

As a Claimant’s lawyer, practicing exclusively in PA workers’ comp, I was thrilled when the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided Lewis v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) in 2007. The Court in Lewis limited a PA workers’ comp insurance company’s ability to continually file petitions to terminate a claimant’s workers’ comp benefits. Specifically, the Court held that a workers’ compensation insurance carrier in PA had to prove there was an actual change in condition from the previous adjudication of disability (again, for this case to be important, the injured worker had to have previously defended a Termination Petition).

There was some concern, however, with how the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania would interpret the Lewis decision. As we posted in a previous blog entry, the Commonwealth Court initially did properly follow Lewis. Last month, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania set claimant’s workers’ comp attorneys’ minds at ease, when they issued a decision in Delaware County v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. Here, like in Lewis, the workers’ comp insurance company lost a Termination Petition, then filed another Termination Petition. Finding the workers’ compensation insurance carrier’s doctor credible when he testified the injured worker had fully recovered from the work-related injury, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the Termination Petition.

On appeal, the Commonwealth Court of PA, vacated the termination and remanded to the WCJ (sent the case back to the WCJ for additional findings). The Court found that the WCJ had granted the Termination Petition in error, because it was not enough to simply find the workers’ compensation insurance carrier’s doctor was credible when he testified that the injured worker had fully recovered from her work injury. Instead, the Court said the WCJ must first decide whether the workers’ comp insurance company proved that the claimant’s condition had changed from the time of the first Termination Petition to the time of the second. Only after that finding is made can the WCJ decide whether the workers’ compensation insurer proved the injured worker had fully recovered.