Workers Compensation Review Petitions and the Doctrine of Res Judicata

Date: December 18, 2008

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has recently determined that the doctrine of res judicata precludes the filing of a second review petition to expand the description of the work related injury when the parties previously entered into a stipulation that expanded the description of injury.
In Weney v. WCAB (Mac Sprinkler Systems, Inc.), the claimant was injured on October 21, 2005 when he fell from a ladder and sustained a left shoulder strain. As a result of that injury, Weney was unable to work. Hie employer acknowledged the work injury via a Notice of Temporary Compensation Payable (NTCP), which was later converted into the NCP. On March 27, 2006, claimant filed the first Petition to Review Compensation Benefits (Review Petition I), which sought to amend the NCP to include a left shoulder injury in the nature of a tear of the anterior labrum with large glenohumeral joint effusion, tendonitis or a partial tear of the supraspinatus/infraspinatus, minimal impingement, and biceps tenosynovitis. The parties then entered into a Stipulation of Facts (Stipulation) wherein they agreed that the NCP should be amended to include the additional shoulder injuries as asserted by claimant in Review Petition I. On May 19, 2006, the Workers’ Compensation Judge issued a decision and order adopting the Stipulation and granting claimant’s Review Petition I. Neither party appealed this decision and order. On May 30, 2006, Weney filed a second Review Petition (Review Petition II) which sought to further amend the NCP to include four herniated discs at the C2-3, C3-4, C4-5, and C5-6 levels, which he allegedly sustained as a result of the October 21, 2005 work incident. The employer filed an Answer denying the allegations set forth in Claimant’s Review Petition II and asserting the affirmative defense that Review Petition II was barred by the doctrines of technical res judicata and/or collateral estoppel. The WCJ held two hearings at which the parties were given the opportunity to present evidence regarding Claimant’s Review Petition II.
The WCJ granted Claimant’s Review Petition II and amended the NCP to include Claimant’s herniated discs. The WCJ did not address Employer’s allegation that Claimant’s Review Petition II was barred by the doctrines of technical res judicata and/or collateral estoppel. Employer appealed and the WCAB reversed the WCJ’s decision and order. Claimant then appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
The Commonwealth Court agreed with the WCAB and concluded that technical res judicata applies and that Claimant’s Review Petition II was barred. The Court noted that the subject matter of both the Review Petition I and Review Petition II proceedings was the nature and extent of the injuries that Claimant sustained as a result of the October 21, 2005 work incident. Thus, the ultimate issue in both proceedings was whether the NCP accurately reflected the nature and extent of Claimant’s injuries.

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.