In an unreported Opinon of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, dated October 29, 2021, the Court affirmed the Decision of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) which affirmed a Workers’ Compensation Judge’s (WCJ) denial of a Fatal Claim Petition. (Timothy Walton vs. Iddings Brothers, LLC, No. 75 C.D. 2021). Stephanie Mesen, Claimant, widow of Timothy Walton, petitioned for fatal claim benefits. They got married in December 2014. They were separated in 2017. Claimant filed for divorce in September 2018. On September 26, 2018, Decedent was working and fell from a roof and passed away from his injuries.
Section 307 of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act states, in pertinent part, as follows:
No compensation shall be payable under this section to a widow,
unless she was living with her deceased husband at the time of
his death, or was then actually dependent upon him and receiving
from him a substantial portion of her support.
77 P.S. §562 (emphasis added).
Because Claimant was not living with Decedent when he died, she, as the surviving spouse, must show not only dependency but that Decedent provided a substantial portion of her support. The WCJ found that Claimant didn’t meet that burden after reviewing a lot of testimony and tax returns, bank records, a financial affidavit, etc. Much of this evidence was discussed in the Opinion. The WCJ credited an Employer witness that testified Decedent was not in a financial position to support Claimant and in fact was not doing so. The WCJ also found that none of Claimant’s testimony was credible based on her demeanor and conflicts in her statements.
The WCAB affirmed the WCJ Decision and the Commonwealth Court affirmed. The Court noted that the WCJ has exclusive province over questions of credibility and evidentiary weight and is free to accept or reject testimony of any witness, in whole, or in part. The Court will not disturb the findings of the WCJ when they are supported by substantial evidence. The Court, applying this standard, found that the WCJ supported the Decision with substantial evidence.
This Opinion underscores the importance of either winning in front of a WCJ, or settling the case. Once the WCJ issues a Decision, it’s very difficult to get it reversed. We see remands where a case is sent back to a WCJ- to review certain evidence or resolve a conflict, but those often result in the same outcome. But reversals are pretty rare. If the WCJ based his/her Decision on substantial, competent evidence, it’s likely game over, unless they committed an error of law. Many Decisions are appealed because a party believes there is evidence supporting their case. But that’s not the standard on appeal. If the WCJ backed up his or her findings with substantial evidence and made credibility determinations therein, it’s not grounds for a reversal if you can point to other evidence that supports your position.
For more information about Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Law, call Cardamone Law, Pennsylvania Super Lawyers, at (215) 206-9068