As we have previously discussed, within the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, there lies a trap for unwary injured workers. Actually, there are many traps in the Act, but for today, we’ll just deal with this one.
When a workers’ comp insurance carrier thinks (and this is a critical word) that an injured worker has returned to work, the insurance company can file a Notification of Modification (if there remains a partial wage loss) or a Modification of Suspension (wages are believed to be at or higher than the pre-injury wages). If there is no “challenge” filed by the injured worker, within the allotted time period, the Notification of Modification or Suspension has the same legal effect as if the injured worker has agreed to the change in status. This is certainly a trap for an injured worker who knows better than to sign a document without legal counsel, but is unaware that not signing a document can also have dire consequences.
“As part of the on-going disaster declaration to address the spread of COVID-19, In alliance with the Governor’s objectives to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 within the workers’ compensation system in Pennsylvania, the Governor has suspended Section 413 of the Workers’ Compensation Act (77 P.S. §§ 774.2 and 774.3).”
Initially, we believed this put a temporary stop to the process of using Notification of Modification or Suspension (as would have been the right thing to do). Instead, as we reviewed the situation, we realized that the Governor has done the exact opposite. To make things easier for the insurance carrier to reduce or stop the benefits of injured workers in PA, the Governor has removed the need for the Notification of Modification or Suspension to have a notarized signature of the employer (swearing that the allegation of the return to work is actually true).
It is stunning that the Governor would make it easier for an insurance carrier to reduce or stop the benefits of injured workers in the current climate. At this point, access to courts, including the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system, is impaired. There can be delays, which are through no fault of anyone involved. As a basic concept, though, shouldn’t the risk of a delay be on the insurance carriers rather than the injured workers? Why not simply stop the usage of Notifications of Modification or Suspension at all, and force the insurance companies to actually litigate these cases? The very same relief would be available to the insurance carriers without putting this undue risk and hardship on the injured worker in PA.