March 20, 2024

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ALERT: Workers’ Compensation Judges in Pennsylvania Have the Ultimate Ability to Render Credibility Determinations When Deciding Cases

The Pennsylvania courts have consistently held that a Workers’ Compensation Judge is the final arbiter of credibility since they review the evidence and observe the witness testimony in a workers’ compensation case.  Unless the credibility determination is “arbitrary and capricious,” the WCJ’s findings are accepted by the courts.  Occasionally, a WCJ’s credibility determinations are challenged on appeal.

On March 6, 2024, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania addressed a WCJ’s credibility determinations in the case of Lawry v. County of Butler (Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board). In Lawry, the WCJ heard the testimony of the injured worker and reviewed the medical evidence, and largely denied the Employer’s Petition to Terminate benefits.  Specifically, the WCJ found that the injured worker had fully recovered from right thumb strain/sprain and right ulnar collateral ligament tear.  However, the WCJ also determined that Employer failed to meet its burden of proving that Claimant fully recovered from her RSD/CRPS.

On appeal, the WCAB reversed the decision of the WCJ.  While the WCJ found the defense medical expert not credible regarding the recovery of the RSD/CRPS, the WCAB held this determination arbitrary and capricious.

Upon further appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed the WCAB, and found that the WCJ’s credibility determinations had sufficient support in the evidentiary record.  The Court explicitly recited that the WCJ is the ultimate Finder of Fact, and such credibility determinations should not be disregarded absent a conclusion that such findings were arbitrary and capricious. The Court indicated that determinations of credibility are to be considered as a “total package,” reviewed as a whole, and more than a series of individual findings, in the context of the entire evidence of the case. When the Court examined the entire evidentiary record, there was no doubt the determinations of credibility made by the WCJ were not arbitrary and capricious.

It is very difficult to reverse a decision of a WCJ merely on a challenge to a credibility determination. There must be an “arbitrary and capricious” finding which is a misapprehension of material facts as to render it irrational since the credibility determination is made by the WCJ who actually views and evaluates the witnesses and the evidence directly.

Zachary M. Rubinich is a partner in our Philadelphia office. He focuses his practice on the defense of insurance carriers, self-insured entities and third-party administrators against workers’ compensation claims in Pennsylvania. Based on his extensive experience, the Pennsylvania Bar Association Workers’ Compensation Law Section has certified him as Specialist in the practice of workers’ compensation law Zach has handled all aspects of litigation before workers’ compensation judges, the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, the Commonwealth Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Zach has been appointed to the following American Bar Association Tort Trial and Insurance Practice (TIPS) leadership positions: Chair-Elect of the Litigation and Trial Practice Committee; Vice-Chair of the Appellate Advocacy Committee; member of the Ethics and Professionalism Standing Committee; and member of the CLE Board Committee. He is the Past Chair of the ABA’s Tort Trial and Insurance Practice (TIPS) Workers’ Compensation and Employers’ Liability Law Committee from 2018-2019. He served as Vice-Chair of this committee for 2015 to present. In addition, Zach served as Vice-Chair of the 2017-2018 American Bar Association Standing Committee for Diversity and Inclusion. He is also a Committee Member of the ABA’s Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund. Zach has been rated AV Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell for the twelfth consecutive year for 2024. He has been selected as a 2019, 2020 and 2021 Pennsylvania Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers. He was selected as a Pennsylvania Rising Star by Super Lawyers from 2010 to 2014. He was selected as an International Advisory Experts (IAE) Award recipient in 2019 for his accomplishments as a workers’ compensation attorney in Pennsylvania. Zach has been selected as a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Class of 2020. Mr. Rubinich was recognized as a Main Line Today 2023 Top Lawyer.

Zach can be reached directly at: (215) 575-4340 • zrubinich@rawle.com

Workers’ Compensation Section

CHAIR: Claudio J. DiPaolo
PARTNERS: Zachary M. Rubinich; J. Brendan O’Brien; Richard B. Polner; Christian M. Stein; Jennifer Schwartz; Anisha S. Abraham
OF COUNSEL: Edward J. Chiodo; James Curry; Daniel Spafford; Kara Anne Hager; Jennifer Chun Strawn; Raymond A. Swan
ASSOCIATES: Mary Bergmann, Iyanna Greene 

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