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Pennsylvania Appeals Court Finds Credible Testimony May Have Proven Disability 

In a case before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, the issue was whether a work injury had caused a compensable disability. Alex Ingrassia was injured in the course and scope of his employment. He sought appellate review of a determination by the Workers’ Compensation Judge and Board that he failed to prove that his injury caused any loss of earning power, or disability.

While working as a van driver for Universal Health Services, Inc., Mr. Ingrassia was rear-ended by another vehicle. He was cleared for work later that day after seeking medical treatment with Universal Health Services’ panel doctor. Universal Health Services issued a notice of compensation payable, describing the injury as a strain or sprain of Mr. Ingrassia’s neck and lumbar areas. Mr. Ingrassia reported for work the next day but left early on account of his headache and dizziness. He did not return to his job with Universal Health Services.

Mr. Ingrassia filed a claim petition, alleging that in the accident, he suffered neck and back injuries as well as injuries to his head and left arm. He also alleged total disability. Universal Health Services denied the allegations. The Workers’ Compensation Judge held that Mr. Ingrassia failed to present medical evidence showing that his work injury disabled him.

On appeal, Mr. Ingrassia contended that the Workers’ Compensation Judge and the Board applied the wrong standard of proof.  He asserted that since the Workers’ Compensation Judge found him credible, he had met his burden for reinstatement.

The court stated that a disability means a loss of earning power.  In a reinstatement proceeding, a claimant must prove that his earning power is adversely affected by his disability, and the disability is a continuation of the one that arose in the original claim. In this case, Universal Health Services issued a medical-only NCP. This made Universal Health Services responsible for Mr. Ingrassia’s non-disabling neck and lumbar strain/sprain injury. Mr. Ingrassia did not show a loss of earning capacity from this work injury.  There were no disability benefits to suspend or reinstate. Since Mr. Ingrassia had the burden of proving a disabling work injury, the Workers’ Compensation Judge and the Board applied the correct standard of proof.

However, the court did agree with Mr. Ingrassia that the Workers’ Compensation Judge’s decision was not sufficiently reasoned regarding the denial of disability benefits.  The Workers’ Compensation Judge held that Mr. Ingrassia did not offer sufficient medical evidence showing a disability. But Mr. Ingrassia pointed out that his treating physicians did not unanimously agree that he was able to work. Additionally, the court disregarded the testimony of Dr. Yang, a physician who treated Mr. Ingrassia on two occasions and opined that he was disabled by his work injury as of the date of the injury.  Together with Mr. Ingrassia’s credible testimony, the appellate court stated that Dr. Yang’s testimony could support an award for some period of disability benefits.

The appellate court remanded the matter, with instructions that the  Workers’ Compensation Judge must make further findings on the issue of disability.

At Needle Law, our workers’ compensation attorneys represent individuals in Pennsylvania seeking benefits for work-related injuries. If you were injured in the course and scope of your employment, contact our office today at 570-344-1266.

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