Thursday, May 19, 2005

Costs of Litigation Should be Limited to Costs on Issue(s) on Which Claimant Prevails

In J. Jones v. WCAB (Steris Corp.) the Claimant prevailed in establishing a compensible injury. The WCJ credited the testimony of the Claimant's doctor that his lateral epicondylitis resulted from his work duties. The Claimant was not able to show he had restrictions when he was laid off. Only medical benefits were awarded. The Board affirmed the denial of disability benefits, but remanded for an award of costs of litigation. The Board reasoned the Claimant was successful in part.

The Claimant appealed to the Commonwealth Court on the disability benefit denial. The Court quashed the Claimant's appeal on the basis that the remand of the Board requires the WCJ not just to award the costs set forth in the WCJ's decision, but also to find that the costs were related to the issue on which the Claimant prevailed.

The costs were:

Medical Records
Hand, Microsurgery & Reconstructive $18.34
Hearing Transcripts
Sargent’s [$]98.15
Deposition Fee
D. Patrick Williams, D.O. [$]1,200.00
Deposition Transcript
Ferguson & Holdnack Reporting [$]140.50
Steffan & Stauffer Reporting [$]110.46
TOTAL $1,567.45

One hearing, two doctor's depositions (Employer's doctor testified the lateral epicondylitis was not related) and one set of medical records. Which might be unrelated to the issue of whether the lateral epicondylitis was work related?

The Court may have eliminated an incentive for the Employer to narrow the issues before the WCJ. Employers do apply pressure by keeping issues on the table, and the potential that Employers will not be assessed the costs of developing these issues in the Claimant's case in chief slightly encourages this behavior.

In this case, the Claimant almost certainly testified that he limited himself in the work he was doing. The Claimant might have sought a stipulation that the Claimant's supervisors were aware of this. The cost to the Claimant to develop this without a stipulation would be the transcript of a supervisor's testimony.

Assume the Employer correctly analyzed the disability issue to turn on the lack of a medical restrictions note. If the Employer has to reimburse all costs if it loses on the causal relationship issue, there is an incentive to enter into the stipulation. Under the Court's holding this incentive is eliminated.

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