Notice of a Work Injury in PA Must Inform Employer of “the Possibility (an Injury) was Work-Related.”

We have discussed the concept of providing notice of a work injury to one’s employer before on this blog.  As a basic rule, notice of a work injury in Pennsylvania must be provided within 120 days of the injury.  This can get a bit tricky when we are dealing with “cumulative trauma” (when an injured worker may not even realize his or her condition is related to the work duties until being so advised by a doctor; in these cases, the 120 days does not begin until the injured worker obtains this knowledge [called the “discovery rule”]).

Today, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision in the case of Gahring v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (R and R Builders and Stoudt’s Brewing Company).  This decision required the Court to consider what constituted sufficient notice.  Here, the injured worker hurt his low back in 1997 for Employer A.  This was accepted as herniated discs at L3-4 and L4-5, and chronic low back pain.  Low back surgery was performed.  The case was settled in 2002.

In 2010, the injured worker starting as a line cook for Employer B.  When another worker left, causing an increase in hours, the injured worker told his Employer that he was having increased back pain.  This worsened until he needed another back surgery on November 17, 2010.

A Claim Petition was initially filed against Employer A, but then the litigation was expanded to also include Employer B.  The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) found the last date worked (November 10, 2010) to be the date of injury (as is done in a repetitive trauma case).  The WCJ found the testimony of the injured worker’s doctor credible (that the work at Employer B “aggravated” the condition, requiring the second surgery).  However, the WCJ found the notice was not sufficient and denied the Claim Petition.  This was affirmed on appeal by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB).

However, upon further appeal, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed.  The Court explained that the WCJ (and the WCAB) required notice to be more detailed and specific than is required.  Of importance, the Court clarified that, “A claimant need not state with certainty that the injury is work-related, as long as employer is informed of ‘the possibility it was work-related.’”  Looking at the notice here, the statement to employer that the extra hours were causing increasing back pain, the Court determined that this met such a level and should be seen as sufficient notice.