Submitted: September 5, 2014.
Appealed from No. A13-0611. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board.
Gregory M. Strouse, Lock Haven, for petitioner.
Harry J. Klucher, Pittsburgh, for respondent Skills of Central PA, Inc.
BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge. OPINION BY JUDGE LEAVITT.
MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge
Janice Donahay (Claimant) petitions for review of an adjudication of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Board) suspending her disability benefits. In doing so, the Board affirmed the decision of the Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) denying Claimant partial disability benefits even though she was earning less than her pre-injury wages when she returned to work. Because Claimant's loss of earnings was not attributable to her work injury but, rather, to economic conditions, the WCJ concluded she was not entitled to partial disability benefits. Finding no error, we affirm.
On February 26, 2011, Claimant injured her right arm while working as a team leader and a residential services assistant for Skills of Central PA, Inc. (Employer). Claimant and Employer executed an Agreement for Compensation describing the injury as a ruptured right biceps and providing for payment of total disability benefits in the amount of $547.04 per week based on an average weekly wage of $816.48. Reproduced Record at 1a (R.R. ).
In August 2011, Claimant returned to her job, with restrictions, earning less than her pre-injury average weekly wage. Claimant and Employer executed a Supplemental Agreement modifying Claimant's benefits from total disability to the partial disability rate of $187.13 per week.
On February 6, 2012, Sanjiv Naidu, M.D. did an independent medical examination of Claimant and opined that she had fully recovered from her work injury and could perform her pre-injury job without restrictions. Employer filed a petition seeking to terminate Claimant's workers' compensation benefits as of February 6, 2012. In the alternative, Employer sought a suspension of benefits as of March 8, 2012, alleging that even if Claimant were not fully recovered, she was fully capable of doing her pre-injury job. Claimant filed an answer denying the material allegations of both petitions.
The petitions were assigned to a WCJ, who held a hearing. Both Claimant and Employer appeared and presented evidence.
Claimant testified that Employer operates a group home for mentally challenged adults located in Howard, Pennsylvania, where three male clients reside. At the time of her injury, Claimant was working in the group home as a team leader and as a residential services assistant. A residential services assistant cleans, cooks, and helps the clients with all activities of daily living. The team leader oversees the other residential services assistants; prepares the work schedules; does reports for the home; and schedules medical appointments for the clients.
Claimant described her February 2011 work injury as follows. One of the clients, who weighs approximately 240 pounds, would not walk without hanging on Claimant's arm. After two weeks of this, Claimant noticed a ball in the area of her right biceps. Claimant underwent surgery in June 2011 and returned to work as a residential services assistant in August 2011 with restrictions from her doctor on the amount of weight she could lift, push and pull. Claimant testified that the restrictions did not affect her ability to do her job. The client was no longer hanging on her arm when he walked because his leg problem had resolved. None of the clients living in the group home have physical disabilities and all of them are fully ambulatory. In October 2011, Claimant also resumed her duties as team leader, a position that involves more paperwork and less client interaction.
Claimant disagreed with Dr. Naidu's determination that she fully recovered as of February 2012. Claimant acknowledged that Employer provided her with a Notice of Ability to Return to Work and a letter requesting that she resume her full-duty job as of March 2012. Claimant is permitted to lift up to a maximum of 50 pounds, and she does not feel capable of exceeding that. Claimant experiences pain in her right biceps when lifting things or if she works too many hours. She treats her muscle pain with a medicated cream and, on occasion, with Vicodin.
Claimant testified that she is essentially doing the same job she had when she was injured. One day a week is devoted to paperwork. The remainder of the week, she cares for clients. Her restrictions have not impeded her ability to perform her regular duties. She has not been asked to do anything that is beyond her doctor's restrictions. If there were something that Claimant could not lift, she would simply leave it for another staff member. However, Claimant noted that should a client decide not to walk, ...