Second Employer's Benefits Termination Proceeding Conflicted With the Findings In the Initial Termination Proceeding

In Volkswagon of America, Inc. v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Bennett), 858 A.2d 151 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004), the claimant was receiving benefits for a 1988 back injury, when, in 1998, the employer filed a termination petition alleging that the claimant had fully recovered from the work injury. In defense of the claim petition, the claimant's doctor testified that the claimant continues to have back problems and also had left leg atrophy and an absent Achilles reflex that were causally related to the work injury. The Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) credited this testimony and denied the termination petition. The court's opinion does not indicate that this decision was appealed. Thereafter, the employer filed a second termination petition. In support of the subsequent petition, the employer's medical witness testified that the claimant had fully recovered from the back injury and that the left leg atrophy and absent Achilles reflex were due to non-work-related factors. The WCJ accepted this testimony and granted the second termination petition, but the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) reversed, holding that the findings in the second termination proceeding conflicted with the findings in the initial termination proceeding and thus were precluded by the doctrine of res judicata. In affirming the WCAB, the court in Volkswagon held that the cause of the claimant's leg atrophy and absent Achilles reflex had been judicially determined in the first termination proceeding and the employer could not relitigate that issue.