Under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, an injured worker is generally covered for all of the effects of the work injury. Things that would not have happened “but for” the work injury often can be included in the workers’ compensation case. Thus, typically, if an injured worker in PA has a car accident on the way to therapy (for the work injury), the injuries suffered in the subsequent car accident are also covered by workers’ comp.
A recent decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, Matthews v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB), however, restricts this concept. The injured worker must provide evidence of each aspect of his or her claim, as with any PA workers’ comp claim. Here, Ms. Matthews hurt her knee at work in January, 2003, then had a car accident, while going to therapy for her knee, in September, 2003. Medical evidence showed the January, 2003 injury had healed, but Claimant was disabled from the injuries from the car accident. The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) found that the work injury should be expanded to include the injuries from the car accident, and awarded ongoing workers’ comp benefits.
On appeal, the WCAB reversed the decision of the WCJ, finding the car accident could not be considered part of the work injury because Claimant never gave notice to her employer of the car accident (though she did notify her employer of the original work injury to her knee). The Commonwealth Court of PA agreed with the WCAB.
The dissent noted that Claimant presented evidence that she was treating with the same panel physician as was treating the initial work-related knee injury. As such, went the dissent, the employer DID have notice of the motor vehicle accident. For the majority, though, this was not deemed sufficient.
Essentially, they are treating the car accident as an “aggravation,” which, under PA workers’ comp law, is a “new injury.” As such, one of the elements an injured worker must prove is that he or she gave notice of the injury within 120 days. As an attorney representing injured workers in Pennsylvania, this decision does not seem fair. The car accident is not a new injury (Ms. Matthews did not go back to work, so how could she have a new injury?). The car accident, to me, is simply a continuation of the existing injury (no different than when we add another diagnosis to an existing claim).
This decision will serve no purpose other than to punish those injured workers who do not get timely legal advice from an experienced Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney. There really, to me, is no valid reason to require additional notice for what is truly a continuation of the same injury.