Can Employer File a Petition to Reduce Disability Benefits from Total to Partial ?

In Jaskiewicz v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (James D. Morrisey, Inc.), 651 A.2d 623 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1994), appeal denied, 541 Pa. 628, 661 A.2d 875 (1995), the claimant sustained a work-related injury for which the employer accepted liability in a notice of compensation payable (NCP). Subsequently, the employer filed a modification petition alleging that the claimant's disability had changed and that he was able to return to work. Thereafter, a Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the employer a supersedeas reducing the amount of the claimant's benefits from total to partial. Despite that order, the employer unilaterally stopped paying partial benefits, and the claimant requested penalties. The employer subsequently filed a termination petition alleging that the claimant's work-related injury had ceased. Following hearings, the WCJ granted the employer's termination petition and dismissed the modification petition and the claimant's penalty petition as moot. The Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) affirmed, and on appeal to this court, we also affirmed. After determining that termination of benefits was properly granted, we concluded that the WCJ correctly refused to award penalties based on the employer's unilateral stoppage of payments. In so doing, we relied on the plain language of section 435(d)(i) of the Act, which states: The department, the board, or any court which may hear any proceedings brought under this act shall have the power to impose penalties as provided herein for violations of the provisions of this act or such rules and regulations or rules of procedure: (i) Employers and insurers may be penalized a sum not exceeding ten per centum of the amount awarded and interest accrued and payable: Provided, however, That such penalty may be increased to fifty per centum in cases of unreasonable or excessive delays. Such penalty shall be payable to the same persons to whom the compensation is payable. 77 P.S. 991(d)(i) The Court concluded that, because section 435(d)(i) contemplates an award of penalties as a percentage of the compensation amount awarded, there could be no penalty imposed where the amount of compensation awarded was zero, notwithstanding that a violation of the Act may have occurred.