PA Workers’ Compensation – Where “Yes” Can Mean “No”

Though the case of Armstrong v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board was decided by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania over a year ago, on August 27, 2007, this decision continues to both amaze and irritate those of us who limit our practice to representing the injured worker in PA workers’ comp cases.

Under Section 406.1 of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, the workers’ comp insurance carrier has 21 days to accept or deny a claim. Typically, and logically, acceptance of a claim is done by issuing a Notice of Compensation Payable (NCP) [or an Agreement for Compensation], and denial of a claim is done by issuing a Notice of Denial (NCD). Since this seems to make perfect sense, naturally, this is not necessarily how things work.

On a Notice of Denial, there are six boxes, or “bases of denial.” Essentially, the workers’ comp insurance company checks one or more of those boxes, indicating the reason or reasons for the denial. Box number four on an NCD states, “Although an injury took place, the employee is not disabled as a result of this injury within the meaning of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.” This is rather unnecessary, since there is also a “medical only” NCP, to be issued when the workers’ comp insurance carrier feels there is no disability from the work injury.

In Armstrong, an NCD was issued, and box number four was checked. One of the issues the Court faced was whether the Notice of Denial was actually a document accepting the case. In a decision that seems contrary to common sense, the Court held that a Notice of Denial, with box four checked, does indeed mean that the workers’ compensation insurance carrier accepted the claim. Logic only an appellate court could love.