Landmark Decision: Medical Marijuana in Workers’ Compensation Cases

The Harrisburg Commonwealth Court Ruling

On March 21, 2023, the Commonwealth Court of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, made a groundbreaking decision: it ruled that the cost of medical marijuana should be covered under workers’ compensation for the treatment of injuries sustained on the job. Workers in Pennsylvania who were initially prescribed opioids took their case to court after the denial of claims to cover medical marijuana expenses. Attorneys played a pivotal role in bringing these cases before the court, challenging the earlier denials and advocating for their clients’ right to more effective pain relief.

Case Studies: Sheetz and Appel

Two significant cases formed the basis of the court’s decision. The first, Teresa L. Fegley, as Executrix of the Estate of Paul Sheetz v. Firestone Tire and Rubber (Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board), revolved around Paul Sheetz. Sheetz had been injured at work in 1977, endured two back surgeries, and relied on opioids and narcotics to manage his pain for nearly 30 years. In 2019, his doctor recommended medical marijuana, which effectively managed his pain. Despite Sheetz’s death, his estate continued the fight to have medical marijuana covered by workers’ compensation, assisted by skilled Workers Compensation Attorneys.

Implications of the Decision

The second case, Edward Appel v. GWC Warranty Corporation, involved Mr. Appel, who was injured at work in 2006. Appel managed to wean himself off opioid medication with the help of medical marijuana by September 2018. Both Appel and Sheetz had their initial claims denied, but the Commonwealth Court overturned these decisions. The court cited that the Medical Marijuana Law allows for the lawful use of medical marijuana and thus, patients should not be denied their rights. This sets a precedent that Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Attorneys will likely reference in future cases.

What This Means for Workers and Employers

The Commonwealth Court’s decisions have far-reaching implications for both employers and workers. The judges clarified that employers would not be breaking federal law as they would be reimbursing medical costs rather than directly paying for the marijuana. Pittsburgh Workers Compensation Attorneys are likely to see an uptick in cases as this ruling opens new avenues for employee healthcare coverage.