Thursday, May 28, 2015

An Interesting Pennsylvania Case Led Me to Check our Numbers for 2015

An interesting case caught the news in Pennsylvania in March. I do not read every news story about workers' compensation, but the headline, "plant worker knocked out by falling refrigerator" caught my eye.  The lead line in the first paragraph led me to read the story through, it said "Joseph Tolle awakened to see a refrigerator still plugged into the wall, swinging above his head." That has to be disconcerting, a heavy object dangling above you from a plug-in.

The story describes the events, which essentially involve a 26 year old security officer hit by a falling fridge, that had been placed on a shelf about eight feet above the floor. It might be best overall if refrigerators remained on the floor? His case went to trial in Pennsylvania in February 2015. The accident occurred around 3:30 a.m. on October 13, 2013. 

Some interesting points are raised by the story. 

The attorney interviewed for the article said that "it can take up to a year for cases to come to completion once a claim is filed." in 2013, the Florida OJCC averaged 142 days (about 4.5 months) from petition or motion until final hearing. Certainly, there were Florida cases that took over a year. With Expert Medical Advisers, bankruptcies and other complications it can happen. Sixteen months seems a bit long however. 

The article noted that in Pennsylvania in 2013 there were 46,630 petitions and remands assigned and "46,032 judges decisions in workers' compensation claims filed in Pennsylvania." In 2013, Florida had 58,041 petitions filed, according to page 11 of the 2013-14 annual report. We do not count remands, so that figure is not a direct corollary to the Pennsylvania number. 

The figure of 46,032 "judges decisions" is interesting.  Last year, our judges averaged 57 trial orders each, and we have 31 judges, so we had about 1,767 trial decisions. The judges entered an average of 393 stipulation orders each, or 12,183 stipulation decisions. They entered about 2,510 "other" orders each, for a total of 77,810 "other" orders. I am not sure how Pennsylvania defines "judges decisions," but it would appear Florida's judges perhaps entered about 91,760 orders by comparison. This may or may not be an "apples to apples" comparison. 

According to a study by the National Association of Workers' Compensation Judiciary, Florida has 31 judges, so that figure (91,760) yields a per-judge "orders entered" average of 2,960 per judge. The study says that Pennsylvania has 90 workers' compensation judges, so the figure reported (46,032) yields about 511 per judge. Again, whether this is "apples to apples" is not clear. 

The article also noted that claim volume is decreasing in Pennsylvania. I recently looked at the figures we have for claim/petition filing in fiscal 2015 (which ends June 30, 2015). Based on the ten months that are behind us for 2015 (through April 30), it looks like the petition and new case filings will be plus or minus one percent of the 2014 figures. Right now the statistics are showing a trend to increase in both categories, but less than three-tenths of one percent.  

An interesting case from PA. I hope the gentleman who woke up looking at a refrigerator dangling over him recovers. If your refrigerator is on a high shelf, you might want to take it down. I hope people are not waiting 16 months for decisions in Florida. I find the comparison of what is going on in these two states' workers' compensation adjudication processes interesting. I hope you do also. 

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