How does the Appeal Process work in PA Workers’ Compensation?
An appeal of a Workers’ Compensation Judge’s decision must be filed with the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board within twenty days of the decision. The Appeal Board, which is based in Harrisburg, presides over all appeals filed in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation cases. Within a month or two, the Appeal Board will hold a hearing in which your lawyer — and the lawyer for your employer — will orally argue the issues in your appeal before one or two Commissioners (similar to Judges) on the Appeal Board. A decision will not be made at that time; the lawyers will submit legal briefs, and the Appeal Board will issue a decision, usually between six and twelve months. The Appeal Board will either reverse the Judge’s decision, affirm (agree that the Judge made the proper decision), or remand the matter, which means the case will be sent back to the Judge because findings on an important issue were not made in the decision.
The reason it is unlikely that the Appeal Board will reverse is because the Judge has so much discretion to believe or disbelieve the testimony of each witness in the case. These are referred to as “credibility determinations.” The Appeal Board may not disturb a Judge’s credibility determinations on appeal as long as there is sufficient evidence to support those determinations. So if the Judge accepts as credible your testimony and the doctor who testified on your behalf, and rejects as not credible the testimony of your employer’s doctor and witnesses for your employer, it is very likely that the Appeal Board will affirm the Judge’s decision.
Convincing the Appeal Board to reverse usually requires a showing that the Judge made a legal error which affected the outcome of the case. For example, if the employer’s doctor’s opinion that you fully recovered from your work injury was uncertain — the doctor stated that you probably or may have recovered — but the Judge nevertheless accepted the doctors’ opinion and terminated your benefits, your lawyer will have a strong argument that the Judge committed a legal error by relying on a doctor’s opinion which was legally insufficient. Another example of a legal error warranting reversal is if the Judge denied your Claim Petition for benefits on the basis that you did not notify your employer of your work injury within 120 days as required by law but your supervisor testified that you told him about your injury during the 120-day period.
It’s not enough, however, to argue simply that the Judge made the wrong decision by accepting your employer’s witnesses’ testimony as credible and rejecting your and your witnesses’ testimony as not credible. These are not valid grounds for the reversal of a Judge’s decision.
A decision by the Appeal Board can be appealed to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania within thirty days. A three-judge panel from that Court will decide your case. The Commonwealth Court rarely holds oral argument; they decide most Workers’ Compensation cases based on the evidence and the legal briefs submitted by the lawyers. Like the Appeal Board, the Commonwealth Court is unlikely to reverse unless they conclude that the Workers’ Compensation Judge and/or Appeal Board committed a legal error.
The last possible avenue for an appeal is the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Unlike the Appeal Board and the Commonwealth Court, which is required to hear a case when a timely appeal is filed, the Supreme Court has the discretion to review only certain cases which they believe involve compelling legal issues. The Supreme Court hears less than ten percent of cases.
We urge you to contact Pearson Koutcher Law if you have injured yourself at work. One of our experienced and knowledgeable lawyers will make sure that all of your rights are protected. If there’s an appeal filed in your case, with Pearson Koutcher handling your case from the beginning, it is much more likely that your employer’s lawyer will be filing an appeal, not your lawyer at Pearson Koutcher.
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