Pennsylvania Nurse Wins Worker's Comp Battle

September 18, 2002 ( - A Pennsylvania health services company has lost another legal skirmish in its battle to cut the worker's compensation benefits of one if its nurses.

According to a news report in the Legal Intelligencer, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that a company cutting an employee’s worker’s compensation benefit because the person can now work must base that judgment on actual openings for which the employee qualifies.

In the appeals ruling, Senior Judge Joseph Doyle said the company, South Hills Health System, had not shown that it had first offered nurse Joan Kiefer a job she was capable of performing before asking the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to cut off Kiefer’s benefits.

“In this case,” Doyle wrote, “[South Hills] never made an actual offer of a specific job, but instead sent claimant job listings for positions for which claimant could apply. That approach does not satisfy the requirements of (case law), which is still applicable in situations where an employer seeks a modification of benefits based on an offer of a specific job with the employer.”

Offering a Specific Job

The appeals opinion also quoted opinion of a worker’s compensation judgment who eventually ruled against the employer.

“The employer attempted to shift the burden to the claimant to attempt to determine which positions possibly met her capabilities,” the worker’s compensation judge wrote. “The program demonstrates no more than a sham attempt to meet the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act regarding the obligation to offer the claimant a specific job vacancy.”

According to the court, Kiefer sustained a soft-tissue injury to her right knee while serving as a part-time registered nurse for South Hills. Seven months later, South Hills served her with a notice of ability to return to work. And three months after that, the employer filed a petition to modify Kiefer’s benefits, claiming she was capable of finding gainful employment with another employer.

The claimant denied South Hills’ allegations, and the matter was referred to a workers’ compensation judge, who denied modification of Kiefer’s benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board affirmed, and South Hills asked the Commonwealth Court for a review.

The case is South Hills Health System v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board.