Notice of Work Injury Found Not Sufficient Under PA Workers’ Comp Act

**Update – Decision of the Commonwealth Court of PA REVERSED by Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on July 20, 2011 – See blog entry of August 2, 2011**

When a worker gets hurt at work in PA, the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act requires that the employer be notified of the injury with 120 days. If the injury is one of repetitive, or cumulative, nature, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or hearing loss, the 120-day period does not begin until the date the condition, and its relation to work, is known (called “the discovery rule”). This notice does not need to contain the exact diagnosis of the work injury, but merely “a reasonably precise description of the injury.”

In Gentex Corp. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Morack), decided by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania on June 4, 2009, the Court addressed what “sufficient” notice of an injury must contain.

Ms. Morack began having pain in her hands at work. At first, she was not aware it had anything to do with her job. She applied for short-term disability benefits on February 2, 2005, putting on the application that her disability was not work-related, and the condition was swelling in arms, hands, knees and ankles from fibromyalgia and high blood pressure.

Later in February, 2005, her doctor advised her that she had carpal tunnel syndrome, and it was related to her duties at work. Ms. Morack called her employer and left a message on voicemail that she had “work-related problems.” The next notice came to the employer in September, 2006, when they received a copy of the Claim Petition.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) found Ms. Morack credible and granted the Claim Petition. The WCJ found that Ms. Morack called the employer and gave notice within 120 days. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) affirmed.

On appeal to the Commonwealth Court, the employer had two arguments. First, the employer said Ms. Morack failed to prove the voicemail was left within 120 days (no time was stated for when the voicemail was left). Second, the employer alleged the notice given was not sufficient.

The Court disagreed on the first point, finding that, since Ms. Morack was found credible, and won before the WCJ, she is entitled to all reasonable inferences. Based on the evidence, there was no reason to believe the voicemail was left more than 120 days from the injury date.

On the second argument, however, the Court agreed with employer and reversed the decision of the WCJ. The Court found that simply telling the employer that she had “work-related problems” was not sufficient. While, in some situations, the short-term disability application may provide the missing detail, here, the application cited body parts and conditions not even alleged to be work-related, so it was of no help. In the end, Ms. Morack failed to provide any description at all of her alleged work injury. As such, the granting of the Claim Petition was reversed by the Court.

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