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Failure to Notify County Ends Pa. Nursing Home Aide’s Back Injury Claim

14 Sep, 2023 Chris Parker

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Doylestown, PA ( – When it comes to workers’ compensation benefits, an employee is generally out of luck if he doesn’t notify his employer of his injury within the state-mandated period.

In Harris v. County of Bucks, No. 939 C.D. 2022 (Pa. Comm’w Ct. 08/17/23), a case involving a restorative aide for a long-term care nursing home, the applicable deadline for reporting his new back injury was 120 days, a deadline the aide failed to meet.

In 2018, the aide was lifting a patient to a seated position when he injured his back. He notified his employer and received workers’ compensation benefits.

In June 2020, an independent medical examiner decided that the worker had fully recovered from the 2018 injury. The county filed petitions to terminate the aide’s benefits.

The aide then said he injured his back again in March 2020 while lifting patients. According to the county, however, the aide never notified it of the new injury.

The county ultimately won its case before a workers’ compensation judge, and the aide appealed.
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court explained that in Pennsylvania, an employee must give notice of a work injury within 120 days of its occurrence. 77 P.S. § 631. An exception applies where the employer already knows about the injury.

Further, in cases where the employee doesn’t realize right away that he has been injured, the 120-day period for providing notice is tolled until the employee knows, or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should know, of the existence of the injury and its possible relationship to his employment.

Here, the employee failed to show that he notified his employer of his injury within 120 days or that the county already knew about the injury, the court held.

In reaching that conclusion, the court was swayed by the following evidence:

(1) When the county’s HR representative received information in 2020 that the aide was having lower back pain, she asked the aide whether the symptoms related to the 2018 injury or whether he sustained a new work injury. According to the court, the aide didn’t state that it was new injury.

(2) The county pointed out that the aide was familiar with the process of filing a workers' compensation claim, as he had done so in 2018. “Despite this knowledge, Claimant admittedly failed to notify Employer of any work incident that occurred in early 2020,” the court wrote.

(3) Although the aide’s treating doctor forwarded an MRI in 2020 to the county’s workers’ compensation carrier showing a back injury, the doctor never indicated that the MRI related to a 2020 incident. In fact, the doctor stated only that it reflected an exacerbation of a chronic back condition.

The aide had injured his back several times outside of work, including in multiple motor vehicle accidents, and at home in 2018.

According to the independent examiner’s report, the employee was evasive when questioned about his prior back injuries, including with respect to a 2014 MVA.

The court affirmed the WCJ’s denial of the claim.

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