PA Work Injury Timely 27 Years Later

Typically, in Pennsylvania, a workers’ compensation claim has two important time constraints – a period within which the injured worker must provide notice of the work injury to his or her employer (within 120 days), and a period within which a Claim Petition must be filed with the Bureau of Workers Compensation (within three years). Though this is the rule, there are, of course, exceptions.

In Lancaster General Hospital v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Weber-Brown), the Commonwealth Court of PA was faced with a situation where the eye of an injured worker was exposed to herpes simplex virus around 1980. The injured worker gave notice to her employer at that time, but the claim was never formally accepted. In 1985, the injured worker left that job. Through the years, the eye had occasional episodes of infection.

In 2007, the treatments for an infection failed to work, and the injured worker underwent a cornea transplant. At that point, the injured worker was legally blind in that eye, and there was a loss of use of the eye under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (called a “Specific Loss”).

A Claim Petition was filed and benefits were awarded by a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ). The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) affirmed the decision. The WCJ found that the initial exposure was in 1980, but the actual date of injury was May 16, 2007 (the date the doctor told the injured worker that the damage to the eye required the cornea transplant).

The Commonwealth Court also affirmed. The three year statute of limitations was not lost, because the date of exposure was irrelevant. It is the date of INJURY, said the Court, that matters. Since the eye was not “lost” until May 16, 2007, that was the date the “injury” occurred.

Another interesting aspect of this case is the wage the injured worker was earning at the time of the injury [upon which workers’ comp benefits are based] (known as the “Average Weekly Wage” or AWW). The WCJ used Claimant earnings in 2007 (for her new employer). As a practical matter, the injured worker had not worked for the time-of-injury employer since 1985. The workers’ compensation insurance carrier had argued the AWW should either be what the injured worker earned in 1980 (when she was exposed) or 0, since she had no earnings from that employer in 2007. The Court again denied the arguments of the insurance carrier, noting that the date of INJURY was May 16, 2007, so the AWW was properly based on her actual earnings at that time.

As you can see, there are many complicated issues in the world of PA workers’ comp. That is why our firm limits its practice to just representing injured workers in Pennsylvania workers’ compensation cases. You can learn more about the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act by visiting the FAQ page of our website.