Workers’ Compensation Claimants in Pennsylvania Entitled to “Reasoned Decision” by Judge
Workers’ compensation judges make the ultimate determination on a witness’ credibility. When a decision has been appealed, Pennsylvania courts analyze whether there has been an error of law. A reviewing court cannot assess a determination of credibility. However, appellate courts in Pennsylvania may analyze whether there has been an error of law or whether the judge made a “reasoned decision.”
Courts have explained that it is difficult to determine what is a “reasoned decision” made by a workers’ compensation judge. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania had analyzed a decision by a WCJ and determined, in that particular case, that the judge had not provided a reasoned decision. There, the WCJ had found that the testimony of a treating physician was not convincing. Instead, the WCJ found the expert witness provided by the workers’ compensation insurance carrier was more credible. The WCJ had decided that the employee’s treatment for severe trauma, including thoracic, lumbar, and rib fractures, was not reasonable and necessary. In this particular case, the reviewing court remanded back to the WCJ to explain his reasons for determining credibility. The court held that simply because an opinion was “not convincing” was not acceptable, in terms of providing enough information, for the Court to determine whether there was a sufficient basis for the finding.
In some workers’ compensation cases, employers may argue that judges fail to render a “reasoned decision” if they rule in favor of an injured employee. For example, in this case, the employer’s argument was that the judge had disregarded evidence that was critically relevant but instead accepted incompetent, contradictory evidence. There, the reviewing court stated the rule that in support of a decision, there must be substantial evidence.
The definition of substantial evidence, in that case, was relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. In other words, the question was whether relevant evidence supported the finding made by the workers’ compensation judge. The employer argued that there had been inconsistencies in evidence. But the court stated that when a judge relies on credibility determinations that focus on familiarity and experience with the injured employee, the test for a reasoned decision has been met. For example, in this case, the injured employee’s expert had more experience working with the employee, and the judge factored that into his decision.
It can be difficult to understand how a workers’ compensation judge assesses a witness’ credibility, or exactly how they reach a reasoned decision. At Needle Law Firm, our skilled workers’ compensation lawyers help injured workers throughout Pennsylvania as they assert their right to benefits. If you or someone close to you has suffered a work-related injury, you may be entitled to compensation. For a free consultation, contact our office by calling (570) 344-1266 or contact us online.