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The Supreme Court holds that a claimant seeking a reinstatement of suspended benefits must prove that earning power is again adversely affected by the disability and that the disability is a continuation of that which arose from the original claim.

January 1, 2011
Terry Buford v. WCAB (North American Telecom); No. 2 M.A.P. 2009; filed August 17, 2010; by Mr. Justice McCaffery

The claimant sustained an injury to his low back while working for the employer. The claimant later returned to work for that employer in a modified, light-duty position. Later, the claimant voluntarily left this light-duty position to begin work at a business called Ronco, for higher pay and less physical job requirements. The claimant's benefits were then suspended. After working 4 ½ years for Ronco, the claimant was laid off for economic reasons. He filed a Petition to Reinstate his benefits, claiming that his work injury had worsened and that he was experiencing decreased earning power due to his injury. The claimant's petition was denied by the workers' compensation judge, who concluded that the claimant's loss of earnings was caused by his layoff and not due to a worsening of his work injury. On remand from the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board for additional findings, the workers' compensation judge again denied the claimant's Petition for Reinstatement. The Appeal Board affirmed, as did the Commonwealth Court. The Supreme Court, however, reversed. The Court held that a claimant seeking reinstatement of suspended benefits must prove that earning power is once again adversely affected by disability and that such disability is a continuation of that which arose from the original claim. The claimant need not reprove that disability resulted from a work-related injury during original employment. Once this burden has been met, the burden then shifts to the party opposing the reinstatement petition. It is the employer's burden to show that the claimant's loss in earnings is not caused by disability arising from the work injury. This burden may be met by showing that the claimant's loss of earnings is in fact caused by the claimant's bad faith rejection of available work within medical restrictions, or by some circumstance barring receipt of benefits specifically described in the Act, or in decisional law.

Case Law Alert, 1st Qtr 2011

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