In The News: PA Workers Comp Update 6/20/17
HOW LONG CAN I GET WORKERS’ COMPENSATION BENEFITS IN PA.?
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: PENNSYLVANIA SUPREME COURT ISSUES LANDMARK DECISION IN PROTZ V. WCAB (DERRY AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT)
On June 20, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that Section 306(a.2) of the Pa. Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) was unconstitutional. Previously, since passage of revisions to the Act in 1996, an employer could have an injured worker evaluated by an independent medical examiner to determine his or her percentage of impairment directly resulting from a work injury. This was known as an Impairment Rating Evaluation (IRE). The injured worker must have received 104 weeks of total disability benefits prior to the IRE being requested. Once requested and scheduled, the IRE medical examiner was asked to utilize the American Medical Association (AMA) Guidelines for Impairment 4th Edition. If the IRE rating was equal to or greater than 50 percent, then an injured worker was presumed to be totally disabled. An injured worker was considered partially disabled if he or she had a total impairment rating of less-than 50 percent and the injured worker’s benefits were resultantly limited to the statutory 500-week partial disability time period. The AMA guidelines almost always found an injured worker less-than 50 percent disabled.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Protz v. WCAB (Derry Area School District), found the (IRE) process an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to the American Medical Association (AMA). As such, the IRE process has been abolished from Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law and stricken from the Act. No further IRE requests are being accepted by the Pa. Bureau of Workers’ Compensation as of June 20,2017.
Going forward, many questions remain as to how the Protz decision will be applied. The Supreme Court did not provide any guidance as to if, or how, the decision should be applied retroactively. As many injured workers were affected by the IRE provisions of the Act over the last 21 years, it is anticipated that those injured workers whose benefits were limited by the IRE process will petition Workers’ Compensation Judges to overturn their previous IRE determinations if they were provided an impairment rating of less-than 50 percent. Employers are expected to argue that the Protz decision is so far back-reaching that the elimination of the IRE process should be only considered prospectively and not be applied retroactively where injured workers’ benefits have already expired or are about to expire under the old IRE provisions of the Act.
Only time and further litigation will provide the answers for injured workers and employers. In the meantime, further updates will be provided as they occur. If you have any questions or are in the need of guidance on this or any other Pa. Workers’ Compensation issues, please contact Attorney Alexander (A.J.) Palutis, Certified Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Law Specialist at [email protected] or call (717) 234-2401.