New Hope for Injured Workers Following Supreme Court Decision on IREs

 

We’ve been following the repercussions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Protz v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board since June 2017. The decision struck down the section of Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation law that allowed employers to reduce or cut off benefits following an impairment rating evaluation (IRE) as unconstitutional. Following the Protz decision, it was unclear exactly how cases already in progress would continue, and even more unclear what the change meant for those who had already lost their benefits.

Now, an August 16th Commonwealth Court decision shows how important this matter is to workers whose compensation had been unjustly curtailed by IREs. The case of D. Thompson v. WCAB (Exelon Corporation) opens those cases up to being reexamined and for benefits to be returned.

The Case

Debra Thompson was an employee of Exelon Corporation when she suffered a work-related injury on October 16, 1998. Exelon paid workers’ compensation benefits even as Thompson returned to light duty and then was subsequently laid off. For a time, Thompson’s workers’ comp benefits were suspended while she received severance pay and unemployment, but benefits for total disability were reinstated in September 2004.

In September 2005, Exelon petitioned for an IRE. The evaluation was conducted by James Bonner, M.D., who determined that Thompson had an impairment rating of 23%. Thompson’s disability status was reduced to partial, and in December 2010, Exelon petitioned to have her benefits modified and suspended as she had reached the maximum of 500 weeks for partial disability benefits.

A workers’ comp judge supported Exelon in ending Thompson’s benefits, only slightly extending the end date because of the amount of time her benefits had been suspended while she received unemployment. Thompson appealed, and the case made its way finally to the Commonwealth Court. Following the Protz decision, the Commonwealth Court had to side with Thompson, as the entire system of IREs had been declared unconstitutional. They reversed the modification of Thompson’s disability status from total to partial, undoing the suspensions of benefits at the 500 week cap.

The Decision

The decision in Thompson v. WCAB is simple, but it has wide-reaching effects. Debra Thompson had lost her workers’ compensation benefits because her employer had used a medical evaluation to say she was fit for work. That evaluation, and the entire section of law that allowed it, had been declared unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. That meant the ruling that reduced Thompson from total disability to partial disability was invalid, and her benefits should be restored.

The IRE system was in place for nearly 20 years. Countless cases like Debra Thompson’s have been heard in that time. How many people have had their workers’ compensation benefits reduced or ended because of these evaluations? Now, those people have hope, because the courts have definitively said that these modifications are not valid. These individuals can now take action to restore their benefits.

Anyone who believes their benefits were unjustly capped should contact a workers’ compensation attorney. The team at Dugan & Associates has decades of experience with Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law, and we’re ready to look at your case. Contact us for a consultation.

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