Teacher • Workers Compensation • Employee Benefits

Sch. Dist. of Philadelphia v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd., PICS Case No. 14-0024 (Pa. Commw. Jan. 7, 2014) Leadbetter, J. (11 pages).

Court reviewed an order of the Workers Compensation Appeal Board that affirmed the part of the workers compensation judge’s order that granted Hilton’s position and reversed that part of the WCJ’s order that suspended Hilton’s benefits in the absence of evidence that the school district provided her with a notice of ability to return to work pursuant to §306(b)(3) of the Workers Compensation Act. The court affirmed the board to the extent it that it affirmed the WCJ’s grant of the claim petition and reversed the board to the extent that it reversed the WCJ’s suspension of benefits.

Hilton taught at Pastorius Elementary School from November 2008 until March 3, 2009. On March 3, she suffered heart palpitations, headaches, nausea, and dizziness. That afternoon she went to a previously scheduled doctor’s appointment. Her doctor’s office (“Baugh”) called the school to report that Hilton would not be returning due to the school’s overly stressful environment.

Hilton subsequently saw her employer’s work panel physician who made her return to her regular duty two months later. Hilton, however worked only four days that month. On May 29, 2009 the school district issued a Notice of Compensation Denial rejecting Hilton’s claim that she suffered a work related injury due to excessive stress.

Hilton was subsequently reassigned to Jay Cooke Elementary School. In October 2009, Hilton filed a petition alleging that she sustained work related injuries of vocal cord injury, aggravation of pre-existing lupus and heart murmur. She alleged total disability and sought loss of past and future wages.

On appeal the board affirmed that part of the WCJ’s decision granting the claim petition and reversed that part of the decision suspending Hilton’s benefits as of September 30.

The WCJ did not err in relying on medical testimony because Baugh had been Hilton’s treating physician since 1994 and was familiar with Hilton’s base line physical condition and any pre-existing medical conditions. The WCJ considered and weighed the testimony of all of the doctors who testified and the WCJ’s finding regarding the exacerbation of Hilton’s lupus was supported by substantial evidence in the record and was binding on appeal.

The Notice of Ability to Return to Work required by §306(b)(3) of the Act is part of earning power assessment and is required when an employer seeks to change a claimant’s status quo to partial disability by modification of suspension of payments on the basis of medical evidence. The clear purpose of §306(b)(3) is to require the employer to share new medical information about a claimant’s physical capacity to work and its impact on existing benefits. In the present case, there was no need for the issuance of a notice in Hilton’s reassignment to a less stressful school. The reassignment was not based on a change in Hilton’s medical condition, she was not receiving benefits at the time of the job offer and no litigation was taking place. In the claim petition the burden was on Hilton to show the duration of her disability and she did not establish its continuance beyond September 30.