Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Commonwealth Court Holds WCJ's Findings of Fact Establish Collateral Estoppel

In D. Williams v. WCAB (South Hills Health System) the first WCJ granted a Termination Petition and found the Claimant did not have a herniated disk. The Claimant did not appeal. On a Reinstatement Petition, the second WCJ found there was a herniated disk and awarded benefits.

The Board and Commonweath Court reversed the second WCJ, holding the finding the Claimant did not sustain a herniated disk was final, e.g. the finding could not be revisited under the doctrine of collateral estoppel. This analysis was consistent with the holding in Gillyard v. WCAB (PA LCB), where the Court held a second WCJ could not adopt a lesser diagnosis than that accepted by the first WCJ to then terminate benefits.

I originally felt these holdings were inconsistent with J. Almeida v. WCAB (Herman Goldner Company). In that case, the Commonwealth Court held the Claimant does not have standing to appeal a WCJ's finding of fact (in fact, the exact same finding of fact, that the Claimant did not sustain a herniated disk). By holding the Claimant did not have standing to appeal, the use of the fact in a later proceeding would be a denial of due process.

However, even though the facts in this case are the same, the result on the first petition in this case would have given the Claimant standing to appeal. Termination was denied in the Almeida case. When termination was granted in this case, the finding of no herniated disk was essential and material to the judgement, and the Claimant would have had standing to appeal.

Similarly, Almeida will be able to argue a disk herniation occurred the next time a termination petition is filed against him, because the finding of no herniated disk was not essential and material to the denial of the Employer's request for termination in his first case.

No comments: