The Alberta Court of Appeal holds that the Dispute Resolution and Decision Review Body of the Workers’ Compensation Board has the jurisdiction to reconsider its own decisions

Administrative law – Workers Compensation Boards – Disability – Jurisdiction – Appeals

Watson v. Alberta (Workers’ Compensation Board), [2011] A.J. No. 450, 2011 ABCA 127, Alberta Court of Appeal, May 3, 2011, J.E.L. Cote, J.D.B. McDonald JJ.A. and G.A. Verville J.

In March 1999, the respondent, Patricia Watson, filed a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Board (“the WCB”). By way of decision dated June 18, 2007, the Dispute Resolution and Decision Review Body (“the DRDRB”) (formerly known as the Claims Service Review Committee) awarded the respondent temporary total disability benefits.  By way of letter dated June 21, 2007, however, the DRDRB stated that it had identified an error of its decision of June 18, 2007 and on June 27, 2007 the DRDRB issued a formal “reconsideration decision” reversing its decision of June 18, 2007. The issue that arose on appeal was whether the DRDRB has the jurisdiction to reconsider its own decisions.

The Court of Appeal noted that section 17(3) of the Workers’ Compensation Act grants to the WCB a broad reconsideration power respecting any matter that it has dealt with, and to rescind or amend any decision or order previously made by it. The Court accepted that the DRDRB constitutes part of the WCB and therefore enjoys the express power of reconsideration contained in s. 17(3) of the Workers’ Compensation Act.  As support for this, the Court cited the following four factors:

(1)  the DRDRB is created by the WCB unlike the Appeals Commission which is created by the Alberta legislature;

(2)  the WCB appoints certain of its employees to be review specialists of the DRDRB, whereas appeals commissioners are appointed by the Alberta Lieutenant Governor in Council;

(3)  membership of the DRDRB and the Appeals Commission are mutually exclusive and current WCB employees are expressly prohibited from being eligible to being appointed as appeals   commissioner; and

(4)  DRDRB members are WCB employees and their salaries are paid for by the WCB, whereas the salaries of the appeals commissioners are set by the Lieutenant Governor in Council and paid for by the Minister of Employment and Immigration.

The Court allowed the appeal and overturned the Queen’s Bench ruling which held that the DRDRB does not have the jurisdiction to reconsider its own decisions, emphasizing that such a ruling could lead to anomalies and potential injustice.

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