Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Commonwealth Court Defines Competent Medical Records in Two Cases of Less Than 52 Weeks of Disability

In two decisions, City of Harrisburg v. WCAB (Palmer) and Joy Global, Inc. v. WCAB (Hogue) the Commonwealth Court reviewed awards of the WCJ made on medical reports. In both, the WCJ found credible evidence of a strain (of the knee and ankle respectively) and awarded benefits for the sequelae of these injuries.

In both cases, the Court began with the premise that a case involving medical expenses and less than 52 weeks of disability may be decided on medical reports under Section 422(c) of the Act. The Employers' challenges were to the competency of the evidence submitted by the Claimant in each case.

In Palmer, the WCJ credited the Claimant's medical evidence, even though in one instance the Claimant's physician stated the Claimant's knee condition was unrelated to the work injury. The WCJ rejected this as inconsistent with the doctor's other statements on the issue. The Employer's main argument was there was no medical opinion relating the Claimant's total knee replacement to the work-related strain. The Court found it was sufficient that Claimant's physician diagnosed worsening pain as a result of the injury and also stated unrelenting pain is an indication for knee replacement surgery.

In Hogue, the Claimant's medical evidence was only "Clinical Worksheet" forms prepared by a nurse at the panel provider's office. The Court held these were competent to support an award because they fit the definition of reports of "medical providers" as defined in Section 109 of the Act. The forms clearly addressed the injury. Any other discussion of the content of the forms goes to the credibility of the evidence, not the competence, according to Budd Company v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Kan), 858 A.2d 170, 180 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004).

The Court did state in a footnote that Claimant's counsel fees in Hogue would not be awarded under Pa.R.A.P. 2744 regarding frivolous appeals. The Court stated the application of the provisions of Section 422(c) is an emerging area in workers' compensation law, citing Budd.

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