The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on June 20, 2017 declared as unconstitutional the impairment rating evaluation (IRE) provision in Section 306(a.2) of the Workers’ Compensation Act. The decision in Protz v. WCAB (Derry Area School District) means that injured workers will no longer be subject to a cap on the length of wage loss benefits they received. Pittsburgh attorney Tom Baumann represented claimant. Attorney Dan Siegel of the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC authored the friend of the court brief on behalf of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice (formerly the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association).
In the 6-1 majority opinion authored by Justice Wecht, the Court concluded that the Pennsylvania legislature violated the state Constitution when it passed this provision because it (1) gave “unfettered discretion over Pennsylvania’s impairment-rating methodology” to the American Medical Association, and (2) “did not include in … any of the procedural mechanisms that this Court has considered essential to protect against ‘administrative arbitrariness and caprice.'”
Chief Justice Saylor authored a concurring opinion. Justice Baer filed a dissenting opinion.
Before the decision, Section 306(a.2) of Act permitted employers to require an injured worker to undergo an IRE after receiving 104 weeks of disability benefits. If the IRE physician determined that the injured worker’s whole body impairment was less than 50 percent, as determined by the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, the worker was limited to 500 weeks of future wage losses. The Court held that the delegation of the impairment determination was impermissible because only the legislature can make those decisions.
Submitted by Dan Siegel