Precedential Case Scrutinizes Litigation Costs

A workers compensation lawyer Philadelphia PA turns to for high dollar claims outlines a recent case that sets precedent regarding litigation expenses for workers compensation claims. In Lawhorne. V. Lutron Electronics (Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board) (PA. Commw., No. 1132 C.D. 2021) filed October 18, 2022, challenged established case law that assigns litigation costs to defendants when the plaintiff partially or wholly wins the claim. A workers compensation lawyer Philadelphia PA trusts examines the case and how it impacts workers compensation law.

Section 440(a) of the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act upholds that in contested cases in which the insurer has contested liability, the attorneys fees shall be awarded when the litigation is decided partially or entirely in favor of the defendant employer. These fees include attorney fees, witnesses, necessary medical examination, and the value of unreimbursed time prior to the proceedings. A long history of case law shows that this cost award is mandatory, ensuring claimants can receive their compensation without it being diluted by the costs of litigation.

Lawhorne v. Lutron Electronics

The plaintiff in Lawhorne v. Lutron Electronics sustained an injury deemed compensable by their employer. Once the plaintiff returned to work, the workers compensation benefits were modified. Afterwards, the plaintiff filed a petition for review to inflate the description of her injuries, add additional injuries, and to file petitions for reinstatement and penalty. The employer filed a termination petition before a workers compensation judge. The penalty petition was subsequently withdrawn.

At trial, the plaintiff testified, as did the claimant’s and defenses medical experts and two fact witnesses. The claimant testified to her injuries, her attempts to return to work on light duty, and her complete removal from work in May 2020, under the advice of her medical expert. The medical expert’s testimony mirrored that of the claimant. Meanwhile, the IME doctor testified that the plaintiff experienced complete recovery and was able to work without restrictions. The fact witnesses attested to their insight on the claimant’s attempts to return to work, the company’s attempts to accommodate the plaintiff, and the benefits the plaintiff received after she stopped working.

After reviewing all the evidence, the workers compensation judge denied the claimant’s review and reinstatement petitions and the employer’s termination petition. The workers compensation judge rejected the testimonies of both expert witnesses. The rejection of the claimant’s expert witness testimony is recognized as a central reason that the claimant lost her review and reinstatement petitions.  The claimant was still able to be successful in the termination petition since she had no burden of proof in that petition.

The workers compensation judge decided that because the claimant partially won, litigation costs should be awarded, but not at the amount incurred and requested. Specifically the judge denied nearly $4,000 in expert witness fees. The judge denied these fees as she had rejected the doctor’s testimony as uncredible and lacking evidentiary support to the litigation.

On appeal the Workers Compensation Appeal Board affirmed the trial judge’s reasoning for denying the expert witness fees. The board cited that since the doctor’s deposition did not aide to the claimant’s litigation success, the expense was properly excluded.

Appeal to Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

The claimant then appealed to the Commonwealth Court, arguing that since she was successful in overcoming the employer’s termination petition, she should be entitled to full reimbursement of the expert witness fee despite the fact that the doctor’s testimony was not used in denying the petition.

The Commonwealth Court agreed with the claimant. Review of the relevant case law showed that the claimant “must prevail on the contested issue in order to be awarded litigation costs.” The court elaborated that the costs must be reasonable, and that the workers compensation judge has discretion to determine what is considered reasonable, as it relates to the “matter at hand.” In this case, the matter at hand was the termination petition. The court summarized that “we are aware of no qualification, either in the statue or caselaw, that the costs incurred must contribute to the success of the matter at issue.”

A workers compensation lawyer Philadelphia PA counts on summarizes that this decision should provide claimants attorneys with a sigh of relief. Attorneys commonly bear the full cost of litigation on behalf of injured workers. Scrutinizing reimbursable costs with a fine-tooth comb may cause some attorneys to limit costs in some cases and “undermine the remedial purpose of the act.”

Contact the Wieand Law Firm, LLC

Contact a workers compensation lawyer Philadelphia PA turns to fight for employee rights. The personal injury lawyers at the Wieand Law Firm are experienced and determined workers compensation attorneys and understand the nuances of workers compensation law. Our attorneys offer a free consultation to help you understand your rights and legal options. Call 215-666-7777 or send us a message via the online form to speak directly with a workers compensation lawyer Philadelphia PA trusts.

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