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A worker injured in 2001 failed to show he should continue to receive disability payments after surveillance showing the man lifting a suitcase full of Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets and gesturing to others on the street corner without restriction.
In Jones v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board, a three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on Wednesday affirmed the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Board’s decision to terminate the man’s disability benefits after it found his condition had changed.
Steven Jones worked as a maintenance custodian for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which included driving forklifts and lifting heavy loads. In September 2001, he fell about 10 feet through an open grate and sustained multiple injuries. He received 500 weeks of partial disability based on an impairment rating of 35%. In 2015, SEPTA petitioned to terminate Mr. Jones’ benefits, which was denied after the workers compensation judge held that Mr. Jones’ cervical spine and shoulder injuries prevented him from returning to work in any more than a light-duty capacity, and found that none of the jobs identified by SEPTA’s vocational expert were sufficiently light-duty to accommodate Mr. Jones.
In 2018, SEPTA filed another petition for termination, and Mr. Jones filed a petition to modify his benefits from partial disability to ongoing total disability, arguing that he suffered from neck pain that radiated to his upper extremities and was “sharp and constant,” and headaches that felt like migraines. His physician testified that Mr. Jones’ restrictions included no lifting over 10 to 15 pounds, no overhead work, no constant turning of the neck, no repetitive use of the arms, and no more than four hours of work per day.
SEPTA submitted surveillance showing Mr. Jones, a Jehovah’s Witness, pulling a large suitcase and setting up a display of pamphlets, as well as standing on the street corner and gesturing with his arms and hands without restriction. He was also observed carrying recycling and trash cans to his neighbor’s porch and side yard, and lifting a recycling bin over his head with one arm.
The workers compensation judge rejected Mr. Jones’ physician’s testimony, noting that there was a lack of objective findings “on either examination or tests performed that would support a finding of ongoing disability” and granted SEPTA’s termination petition and the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Appeals Board affirmed the judge’s decision. Mr. Jones appealed, but the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the board’s decision.
Although Mr. Jones argued that the board erred in its decision, citing his physician’s testimony that there had been no change in his condition, the court held that when the judge found Mr. Jones’ subjective complaints of pain to no longer be credible, that SEPTA established a change in physical condition that affected his ability to work.
The court also found the surveillance showing Mr. Jones lifting and carrying books and bags while performing religious duties supported the judge and the board’s decision that he had fully recovered from his injuries.
There’s nothing comical about fraud, unless one is a postal worker claiming a disability all the while carrying and selling boxes of comic books at notoriously well-attended and festive comic con conventions.