Fancy legal terms such as nolo contendere and habeas corpus are sometimes thrown around in criminal cases. Supersedeas is a legal term which is Greek to most people but is frequently used by lawyers and Judges in Pennsylvania workers’ compensation cases. If you have been unlucky enough to injure yourself at work, it is important that you understand what this term means.
Let’s say that you have sustained a work-related injury and are collecting workers’ comp. benefits. You can bet that the insurance company for your employer will eventually file a petition to terminate (stop your checks and cut off the medical part of your case too), suspend (stop your check but not contest your medical), or modify (reduce the amount of your check but not contest your medical) your benefits. This petition will be assigned to a Workers’ Compensation Judge who will hold a series of hearings over a period of nine to twelve months and then issue a decision on the petition.
At the first hearing, which will be held four to six weeks after the petition is filed against you, the lawyer for the insurance company will submit documents to the Judge that will include the report of the doctor who evaluated you at the request of the insurance company (and provided the medical opinion which prompted the petition to be filed) and ask the Judge to grant – now here’s that word – supersedeas. This means the lawyer will ask the Judge to stop your checks right away — before all of the evidence is presented on the petition. However, the Judge will not render a decision at the hearing but will allow documents to be submitted in opposition to supersedeas within, usually fourteen days but sometimes twenty-one days. To ensure that supersedeas is denied and your weekly benefits continue, you must submit an affidavit signed by you stating your disagreement with the insurance company doctor’s opinion, as well as medical reports from one or more of your treating doctors supporting your position that you’re still disabled as a result of your work injuries, Make no mistake about it, you will need a lawyer, preferably a lawyer with expertise in workers’ comp. matters, to prepare these documents to be filed with the Judge on your behalf in opposition to the insurance company’s request for supersedeas. Soon after the Judge receives these documents, an Order will be entered granting or denying supersedeas. If it is denied, your checks will continue while the petition is litigated before the Judge over the next several months. It is critical for you that the Judge deny supersedeas, not only so your weekly checks continue, but because the insurance company will be more inclined to pay you a fair settlement, whereas if supersedeas is granted and the insurance company can stop your checks, they will be less apt to make you a reasonable settlement offer.
This request for supersedeas that the insurance company makes when they file a petition with the Judge may not be the last one that they file in your case. Suppose that instead of accepting your claim after you injured yourself, the insurance company denied your claim, and you had to hire a lawyer to file a Claim Petition on your behalf. If the Judge grants your petition after the long process and awards you benefits, you might assume that you are automatically entitled to these benefits. Unfortunately, that’s not the case because there is another hurdle you may have to overcome to get paid. The insurance company can appeal the Judge’s decision to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board and in so doing can ask the Appeal Board to grant supersedeas until the appeal is decided, which could take upwards of a year. By requesting supersedeas, the insurance company will ask the Appeal Board to “stay” or put a hold on the Judge’s decision so that it will not have to pay you the benefits which you have been awarded by the Judge. You will need your lawyer to submit a detailed written response to the Appeal Board, arguing that supersedeas should be denied.
The same holds true if the Judge denies a petition – termination, suspension, or modification — that the employer has filed against you. They can appeal to the Appeal Board and ask that your benefits stop until the appeal is decided. Supersedeas is not often granted by a Workers’ Compensation Judge or the Appeal Board, but you cannot afford to take any chances because the granting of supersedeas would be devastating to you.
We want to emphasize to you that if you injure yourself at work and are suffering from pain, receiving medical treatment, and unable to work, do not expect the insurance company to be sympathetic. They will do everything they can to limit the amount of money that they have to pay you – they will have you examined by their doctors, file petitions against you, request supersedeas, and file appeals if they will lose before the Judge. They will also send you forms to complete every six months which can result in the suspension of your benefits if you do not promptly return them and hire a private investigator to follow you.
To protect your rights, you need an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer to go head-to-head with the insurance company every step of the way. At Pearson Koutcher Law, workers’ comp. is all we do. Every one of our lawyers has at least 20 years of experience representing injured workers in workers’ comp. cases. Please call us for a free and comprehensive consultation.