In October 2018 Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a new rule that will affect workers and employers in Workers’ Compensation claims. The new law restores an injury assessment process called Impairment Rating Evaluations (IREs) and creates an additional barrier for injured workers to receive continued benefits.
The rule was championed by employers, and was enacted to counter a 2017 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case that found IREs unconstitutional – a result the business community and industry representatives opposed on the basis of costs.
Employees who are injured or suffer from illness on the job are covered by Workers’ Compensation laws in the United States. Each state additionally has laws that govern the process by which an injured or ill worker can file a claim for benefits.
Workers’ Compensation is required to be carried by most U.S. employers, and is designed to provide coverage for medical treatment and lost wages in cases of on the job injury or illness. Injuries or accidents are most commonly thought of in these cases, but Workers’ Compensation also covers a variety of occupation illnesses that can result from workplace exposure.
Occupational illnesses can include respiratory disease, repetitive motion disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and back ailments, and a variety of other diseases resulting from the type of work performed.
When an employee is injured on the job and files a Workers’ Compensation claim, under the new law they will be again assigned a physician who assesses a level of impairment based on IREs. The legal definition of IREs for Workers’ Compensation cases is stated by percentage of impairment, and thus determines eligibility for partial or full disability from the injury.
This percentage was based upon the American Medical Association (AMA) guidelines. These guidelines, until the 2017 Supreme Court case, were used in workplace injury cases.
Impairment ratings were viewed as open to bias and inconsistency in how they were applied and how they delegated authority to the AMA. Even among the medical community there were diverging opinions as to the accuracy of the IREs in providing a true measure of a worker’s impairment.
This standard, however, allowed employers to put a monetary and time maximum on the amount of benefits injured employees could receive. The PA Supreme Court decision removing IREs was thus seen as a victory for employees who suffer injury or illness at work.
The new law aims to reverse the results of the state Supreme Court decision, and by restoring IREs will potentially limit benefits to injured workers. It was hailed by employers and industry groups for its cost reduction via the restoration of limits on the amount of time an injured worker can receive Workers’ Compensation benefits. It also provides for the use of a new edition of the AMA’s guidelines, which establish a more stringent standard according to injured workers’ representatives.
The new law is anticipated to face additional legal challenges, as those representing injured workers view it as a significant hurdle to an employee’s right to just and fair compensation and treatment.
The experienced Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Gross & Kenny, LLP can provide the guidance you need for the life-altering occurrence of a workplace injury or illness. We serve clients in Philadelphia and surrounding areas in Pennsylvania. Please call us at 267-589-0090 or contact us online for a free consultation to discuss your case.