As we have discussed in a previous blog entry, the PA Workers’ Compensation Act requires that a Notice of Ability to Return to Work be served on an injured worker (and his or her attorney), before the workers’ comp insurance carrier can move to modify or suspend benefits.
Specifically, the Act states, “If the insurer receives medical evidence that the claimant is able to return to work in any capacity, then the insurer must provide prompt written notice, on a form prescribed by the department, to the claimant . . . ” One of the interesting words chosen in this law is “prompt.”
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, in Melmark Home v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Rosenberg), decided in 2008, held that a Notice of Ability to Return to Work sent five and a half months after the workers’ comp insurance carrier received the information was “stale,” and was not valid (because it was not “prompt”). That Court also noted that the real key to whether a Notice of Ability to Return to Work is “prompt” enough is the impact on the injured worker.
Recently, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania again addressed this issue, in Kleinhagan v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (KNIF Flexpak Corp). In this case, the Notice of Ability to Return to Work was sent less than two months after the medical information was received by the insurance carrier, but before the vocational interview was conducted, before modification or suspension of benefits was sought and before a Petition to Modify or Suspend was filed.
The Court found the Notice of Ability to Return to Work timely in this situation. The delay of less than two months did not cause the medical information to become “stale.” The fact that nothing was done prior to the Notice of Ability to Return to Work being served also kept the injured worker from being prejudiced in any way. Given the entirety of circumstance in the matter, the Court found the written notice to be “prompt” and consistent with the Act.