Is an Employer’s Medical Evidence Sufficient to Terminate Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation Benefits?
In a previous article we discussed the importance of having unequivocal expert testimony supporting your claim for Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation. In a recent Commonwealth Court case, the Court addressed the burden an Employer has in terminating benefits that had previously been granted and the requirements for their medical evidence.
In the case of Vasser Watts v. WCAB (Duquesne Light Company), the injured worker was employed as a customer service operator. In 1996 there was a bomb threat in the workplace. While others evacuated the building, the injured worker was ordered by her supervisor to stay in the work place and answer calls. A second bomb threat occurred and thereafter the injured worker began to develop symptoms including hair loss and sleeplessness. The injured worker filed a claim petition alleging psychological injuries and the claim petition was granted. The Worker’s Compensation Judge recognized three injuries: (1) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); (2) major depressive disorder; and (3) panic disorder.
In 2011, the Employer filed a termination petition alleging that the injured worker was fully recovered from her work injuries and/or the injuries that the injured worker was suffering from were not work related. In support of its petition, the Employer’s expert witness testified that panic disorder does not result from any specific incident and that Claimant’s panic symptoms may have resulted from a pre-existing cardiac condition diagnosed in the 1980’s. The worker’s compensation judge (WCJ) granted the termination petition and the Claimant appealed. The Claimant challenged the Employer’s expert opinion on the basis that the opinion was contrary to law and established facts with regard to the injured worker’s panic disorder.
In reviewing the Employer’s expert testimony, the Commonwealth Court recognized that the Employer’s expert concluded that the injured worker had fully recovered from any abnormal anxiety, but did not specifically opine that the injured worker had fully recovered from “panic disorder.” In addition the Commonwealth Court found that the Expert’s conclusion that the injured worker’s panic attacks were most likely related to the pre-existing cardiac condition was contrary to the law and facts of the case. The Court found that once a WCJ finds a disability has been established, an expert opinion that supports termination by asserting there was never a work related injury is contrary to established facts. On that basis, the Commonwealth Court reversed the termination of benefits.
If your Employer is attempting to terminate your benefits based on an expert’s report, you should speak with an experienced Pennsylvania worker’s compensation attorney immediately.