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What Constitutes Substantial Evidence in a Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Case?

In an appellate opinion that was not reported, a Regional Cancer Center petitioned the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania for review of a decision that awarded its employee, a medical assistant, total disability compensation. The injury arose in 2008 when the worker felt a pull in her low back while moving a ten-pound chair in a patient’s room at her job. She said it was causing her back and lower leg pain. The employer sent her to an occupational health evaluation. The doctor there let her go back to work later in the day with certain job restrictions.

The worker continued her job responsibilities (including work that she was not supposed to do) for 2 months while getting treatment, physical therapy and a pain management injection. These measures did not provide relief. A back specialist told her to stop working because she had a scheduled surgery.

The woman had previously experienced a work-related injury with another employer; the symptoms included low back pain. She had also undergone two back surgeries. She resolved her earlier workers’ compensation claim in 2001 and stated there were no more issues until the 2008 injury.

Later when testifying before a workers’ compensation judge, the worker admitted she had told her treating physician that she had felt a pop in her low back that caused pain while she was standing in a grocery store line and that she had a slip and fall on the snow in her driveway around the same time.

She also testified that the surgery the doctor had performed relieved pain in her leg and foot, but that she experienced buttock pain. The worker explained that after a week of working the doctor advised her to stop working because of pain. She also testified that a pain management doctor had given her steroid injections, one of which worked and the other of which didn’t. She testified she hoped to be cleared to work.

The doctor had testified at deposition that the worker had claimed it was a work injury. He had also looked at an earlier MRI of her back, which showed a disc protrusion. He had diagnosed the worker with lumbar radiculopathy and performed surgeries on her. He had not released her to work, explaining it takes 6-9 months to recover from the surgery.

The employer presented the testimony of a doctor who had performed an independent medical examination. He testified he had seen no evidence of structural damage from the work-related injury. He also testified he didn’t think that her pain and other problems were from the 2008 work injury.

The employer also presented testimony from its director of clinical operations. She testified as to the worker’s work schedule and her restrictions.

The workers’ compensation judge found the worker had suffered a disc herniation from her work-related injury. But the judge rejected the doctor’s opinion that the work-related injury caused bursitis. He also rejected the independent examiner’s opinion that there was no structural injury.

The judge noted that though the doctor’s opinions about the diagnostic findings were similar, the independent examiner did not have as much information because he had not performed the surgery. The judge granted the worker’s claim petition.

The employer appealed to the workers’ compensation appeals board. It argued that the judge’s finding was not supported by substantial competent evidence. The appeals board disagreed and affirmed the judge’s decision.

The employer requested a review by the Commonwealth Court. The court explained that the burden was on the claimant to establish the right to compensation. The workers’ compensation judge is the final arbiter of witness credibility and weight to give various evidence. The worker’s testimony and her doctor’s testimony constituted substantial evidence to support the judge’s decision. The decision was affirmed.

An experienced Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate the facts of your particular case if you are injured on the job. Contact the attorneys at Needle Law Firm at 570-344-1266 or via our online form for a free consultation.

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