A recent summer ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on the impairment review evaluation (IRE) process utilized in Pennsylvania workers’ compensation cases may entitle injured Pennsylvania workers to additional benefits under the law. The ruling in Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Derry Area School District) barred the use of IREs, which permitted employers to cap workers’ compensation insurance costs when paying lost wages due to a work-related injury, usually in cases where a worker is unable to return to work. With the “death” of the impairment review evaluation process, injured workers may be eligible for additional workers’ compensation indemnity benefits.
Although the financial impact of the Protz ruling is still unknown, experts and observers believe it will raise insurance premiums and other related costs. The Protz case was filed by a school employee, Mary Ann Protz, who challenged the use of guidebooks regularly published by the American Medical Association (AMA).
Doctors regularly relied upon these guidebooks to determine the extent of a worker’s injury at least 104 weeks after the initial injury. Whenever a worker’s injury or impairment was deemed less than 50 percent, Pennsylvania law capped the worker’s lost-wage benefits at 500 weeks, instead of continuing for life.
Protz argued that reliance on the AMA guidebooks represented an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority since any change or revision of the guidelines would effectively alter the law of workers’ compensation related to benefits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately found in her favor.
The ruling removed a significant means for employers to reduce exposure and cap benefits for lost wages. Whereas employers could limit costs by negotiating lump-sum settlements with injured workers, future settlements may be higher without the leverage of IREs and the threat of a cap on benefits in the absence of any settlement.
Because of the Protz ruling, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Bureau of Workers’ Compensation stated:
“Effective immediately, the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation will no longer designate physicians to perform Impairment Rating Evaluations.
The primary significance of the Supreme Court declaring the IRE process to be unconstitutional is that Pennsylvania workers who once thought they were ineligible for further benefits may now have an opportunity to receive additional benefits. Since James Powell, Sr., founded Powell Law, our attorneys have represented all types of workers in workers’ compensation cases for 111 years since 1906. Our decades of experience make us the clear and obvious choice for representation in workers’ compensation matters in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and surrounding areas. At Powell Law, we effectively assist clients throughout the entire workers’ compensation claims process. Consult an experienced Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney. Contact Powell Law at (570) 961-0777. The consultation is FREE!