Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Prior Worker's Comp Award Collaterally Estops Plaintiff From Expanding Claims of Injuries in Companion Civil Lawsuit

In his recent decision in the case of McConnell v. Delprincipe, PICS Case No. 14-1674 (C.P. Lawrence Co. Oct. 2, 2014 Cox, J.), Judge J. Craig Cox of the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas ruled that the judicial findings reached in a Plaintiff’s previous workers’ compensation case arising out of the same accident precluded the re-litigation of identical issues in a collateral civil lawsuit.  

In this matter, the Plaintiff was a tow truck driver who was injured on a roadway while assisting a stranded motorist.   The accident occurred while the injured party was acting in the course and scope of his employment.  

The Plaintiff’s claim that the Plaintiff sustained cervical spine injuries including herniated disc, headaches, cervical sprain and strain, and numbness and tingling in his upper extremities along with a thoracic strain/sprain, and a lumbar sprain/strain.  

The Plaintiff filed both a workers’ compensation claim as well as a personal injury claim.  

At the workers’ compensation hearing, the Plaintiff presented a testimony of his treating doctor who opined that the Plaintiff sustained a cervical strain/sprain as well an aggravation of his underlying degenerative disc disease in his neck.   The treating physician opined that the Plaintiff could continue to work as he had recovered from his cervical injury. 

At the workers’ compensation hearing, the employer presented a testimony of a medical expert who had reviewed the records and completed an examination of the Plaintiff.   The defense medical expert opined that the MRI studies showed age-appropriate degenerative changes that were not aggravated by the subject accident.   The defense expert agreed with the Plaintiff’s medical expert that the Plaintiff had sustained a cervical spine sprain/strain.  

The workers’ compensation judge concluded that the Plaintiff did indeed sustain a neck injury as a result of the accident, but did not suffer an aggravation of this pre-existing degenerative disc disease.   The workers’ compensation judge had also concluded that the Plaintiff had fully recovered from his work-related injury and was not disabled.  

The workers’ compensation decision was not appealed by the Plaintiff.  

In the separate civil litigation lawsuit, the Plaintiff sought to recover for damages beyond the cervical spine/strain injury.  

The trial court judge rejected this effort by the Plaintiff finding that all of the elements for the collateral estoppel test had been met.  First, the issue decided at the workers’ compensation hearing was identical to the issue raised in the personal injury lawsuit.   The trial court also confirmed that the Plaintiff presented evidence at the workers’ compensation hearing in an effort to prove that he sustained an aggravation of his degenerative disc disease in addition to the sprain/strain injury.   The trial court in the personal injury case indicated that the Plaintiff had a full and fair opportunity to litigate that issue and that the workers’ compensation judge had rendered a final judgment on the merits of that issue which was not appealed.  

Accordingly, Judge Cox held that the findings in the workers’ compensation case precluded the re-litigation of the identical issues in the companion personal injury lawsuit.   As such, the trial court ruled that the findings of the workers’ compensation judge precluded the Plaintiff from seeking damages beyond a cervical sprain/strain injury.  

As such, the Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment arguing that the Plaintiff were collaterally estopped from asserting injuries beyond that which had been determined in the previous workers’ compensation matter was granted.  

I do not have a copy of this decision.  Anyone wishing to secure a copy of this decision in the case of McConnell v. Delprincipe may contact the Instant Case Service of the Pennsylvania Law Weekly by calling 1-800-276-7427 and paying a small fee.  

Source of image: and Disney.

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