Can Workers Comp Board Remand a Case Following An Initial Order Terminating Benefits ?
In Vista International Hotel v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Daniels), 560 Pa. 12, 742 A.2d 649 (1999), the claimant received benefits for a work-related injury.
The employer filed a petition seeking termination or suspension of benefits, alleging that claimant had returned to work suffering no residual disability.
The Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) scheduled a hearing and notice was sent to the claimant.
The claimant failed to appear at the hearing.
The WCJ scheduled a second hearing and notice was sent to the claimant.
Again, the claimant failed to appear and did not contact the WCJ personally or through a representative.
The WCJ heard the employer's evidence and, subsequently, entered a decision and order terminating claimant's benefits.
The claimant appealed and the Board issued an order remanding the matter to the WCJ to permit the claimant to present her defenses to the termination petition.
Although the Board issued an accompanying opinion, it did not state the basis for its decision, other than by general reference to its broad powers to grant a rehearing. Id. at 17, 742 A.2d at 651.
On remand, the WCJ found that the employer failed to meet its burden of establishing that all disability arising from the work injury had ceased and denied the termination petition.
The Board and this Court affirmed this part of the WCJ's decision.
With regard to the remand hearing, this Court held that the Board acted within its authority in remanding the case following the initial order terminating benefits. Id. at 19, 742 A.2d at 652.
On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed this part of our decision.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote:
The Court has held that the Board has the ability to grant a rehearing in appropriate circumstances where the interests of justice require.
Nevertheless, the Board's power is not limitless but must be exercised in a manner that is generally consistent with the policies and provisions of the Act.
Additionally, in order to allow for appropriate review, the Board may not rest a decision to grant a rehearing solely upon the fact that it has broad powers to do so, but instead, must specify the basis for its determination. Id. at 20, 742 A.2d at 653.
The Supreme Court explained that the Board directed that the closed record be opened so that the claimant could present her defense to employer's termination petition without assessing the adequacy of the claimant's proffered excuse. Id. at 21, 742 A.2d at 653-54.
Because the credibility and legal sufficiency of claimant's proffered excuse was contested by the employer, the Supreme Court held that the Board erred in granting the rehearing "other than for the purpose of considering, in the first instance, the veracity and adequacy of Claimant's proffered excuse for her failure to appear at the scheduled hearings." Id. at 21, 742 A.2d at 654.