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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222
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By Brian D. Walters, Esquire
In a case successfully argued before the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, former President Judge Joseph T. Doyle authored a decision on May 6, 2002, reversing the prior adverse decisions rendered by the WCJ and the WCAB regarding a City of Pittsburgh employee's alleged work-related psychiatric stress claim. In the matter of City of Pittsburgh v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Lionel Plowden), ___ A.2d ___ (Pa. Commw. 2002), Fried, Kane, Walters, Zuschlag & Grochmal defended the interests of the City of Pittsburgh and its insurance administrator, Frank Gates Service Company, in the litigation of a claim petition for workers' compensation initiated by a former clerk II for the City of Pittsburgh. The claimant in the matter of City of Pittsburgh v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Lionel Plowden) had been employed as a clerk II in the Department of Personnel for the City of Pittsburgh when he was requested to assist obtaining registration documentation for youth affiliated with the Mayor's Task Force Against Youth Violence (Mayor's Task Force). Claimant alleged that while assisting the youth, he was exposed to abnormal working conditions.
In litigating the underlying matter, the City of Pittsburgh argued that Claimant failed to cite with any degree of specificity uncontroverted exposure to abnormal working conditions in the limited instances he interacted with the Mayor's Task Force. Fried, Kane, Walters, Zuschlag & Grochmal was successful in reducing to only two (2) specific instances where Mr. Plowden actually was transporting selected youth from the Mayor's Task Force to and from their residence to obtain identification at the State Office Building. During these two (2) limited instances, Claimant acknowledged that he was never physically or verbally threatened by the youth.
Adverse decisions were rendered by the WCJ and the WCAB wherein they found Claimant was, in fact, exposed to abnormal working conditions.However, in the case subsequently argued before the Commonwealth Court, former President Judge Doyle carefully reviewed the evidence of record and cited in the context of his decision the effective cross-examination of Claimant. To this extent, the cross-examination revealed that Claimant's alleged incidents of being exposed to abnormal working conditions were not necessarily work-related. For instance, Claimant alleged that he was threatened while standing at a bus stop. During cross-examination, Claimant acknowledged that he could not identify any of the individuals who allegedly approached him at the bus stop as youth associated with the Mayor's Task Force. To the contrary, the youth in the car who approached Claimant at the bus stop specifically indicated that Claimant was not the individual they were seeking and drove off without any harm to Claimant. While Claimant may have subjectively felt threatened, he failed to prove that this incident was work-related.
Former President Judge Doyle also highlighted subsequent concessions on cross-examination to the extent Claimant admitted that during the one (1) instance when he was followed from work by two (2) African American youths, he could not identify the youths as members affiliated with the Mayor's Task Force. Given the success in obtaining these concessions on cross-examination, Claimant was incapable of proving these instances were, in fact, work-related.
The favorable outcome of this case further re-affirms the long-standing principle that a workers' compensation claimant seeking to pursue a mental/mental psychiatric claim must specifically prove exposure to abnormal working conditions.Failure to do so will result in the appropriate dismissal of the claim.
Claimant, through his attorney, filed a request for re-argument with the Commonwealth Court which has already been denied. However, a petition for allowance of appeal filed with the Supreme Court remains pending.