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Pennsylvania Case Shows Intersection of Auto Accident and Workers’ Compensation Damages

Car accidents can form the basis of a personal injury claim or can be a part of a workers’ compensation claim. As noted before, injuries can qualify for workers’ compensation if they occur during the course of employment. A major question in the recent case, Washington v. Nat’l Freight Industries, Inc., was whether the tractor-trailer driver’s injuries resulted from the off-work car accident or the full-duty work performed after the accident.

The injured person was hurt in a rear-end car accident. After seven days off work, he returned to perform full-duty work. Over time, the injured driver experienced worsening pain in his shoulders, arms, and hands. Eventually, the injured driver left the job, citing that he could no longer work due to the pain. The injured driver filed suit against the driver involved in the non-work-related accident and then filed for total disability benefits from his employer. The injured driver claimed that he suffered from aggravation of injuries to his neck, shoulders, arms, and hands and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome due to the repetitive motions, lifting, and driving that he performs as part of his work duties.

At the workers’ compensation claim hearing, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) agreed with the medical expert witness testimony regarding the injuries and symptoms sustained from the non-work-related accident. However, the WCJ agreed with the employer, rather than the injured driver, that the injuries alleged to be caused by work were solely caused by the non-work accident. During the hearing, the injured driver pointed out the employer’s failure to respond within the time frame set by law, arguing that the employer had no right to bring forth any evidence in its defense. The Workers’ Compensation Review Board affirmed the WCJ’s decision, and the case proceeded to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

In its decision, the Commonwealth Court looked over the case law, which does show that if an answer isn’t filed within the statutory period without an appropriate excuse, the allegations in the injured person’s petition are considered true, and the employer is barred from presenting affirmative defenses and challenging the facts in the claim petition. The employer would then only be left with the ability to challenge the legal sufficiency of the claims or whether there was a continuing disability. Ultimately, the Commonwealth Court did not feel the employer’s response was untimely. The injured person mailed it to the wrong address, and the timing of service only begins on the date the notice was mailed if the letter was addressed correctly. The injured person argued that the incorrect address was sent to property owned by the employer, so it had access to the notice within the designated timeframe, but the Commonwealth Court disagreed. The court affirmed the decisions of the WCJ and Review Board.

This case reflects the need to have an experienced Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney who is familiar with the statutory timelines. The lawyers at Needle Law, P.C. have the experience you need to aggressively pursue all the damages you deserve. If you or a family member have been injured in a car accident or on the job, call today for a free, confidential consultation at 570-344-1266.

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