Can a Worker Claim Workers’ Comp Benefits Long After an Accident?
Originally posted August 21, 2013 by Chris Kilbourne on http://safetydailyadvisor.blr.com
Workers’ comp claims must be filed directly after a work-related injury occurs, right? Wrong, says one state court.
A warehouse worker was moving a pallet stacked high with boxes when a 50-pound box fell from the top of the stack. He raised his arm to protect his head, and the box hit his wrist. Immediately following the accident, the wrist felt sore and stiff.
The worker’s company had a policy requiring employees to report injuries to their supervisors and record the injury in an injury log. So right after the accident, the worker told his supervisor that a box fell on his wrist and that he felt pain in his wrist.
“Can you still work?” asked the supervisor.
“Yeah, I guess so,” said the worker. “It’s probably just a sprain. It ought to go away in a few days.”
“OK,” replied the supervisor. “Just don’t forget to write it up in the injury log.”
The employee did as the accident policy required and wrote in the injury log his name, the date, and “Pain in right wrist.”
And that was that—except that it wasn’t. Twice during the next month the employee told his supervisor that his wrist still hurt, and both times he also recorded the problem in the injury log. Although he continued to experience pain, the worker didn’t go to the doctor because he still believed that he’d suffered a sprain and that it would get better in time.
Unfortunately for this employee, his wrist failed to get better, and he finally went to see the company nurse. She told him he might have tendonitis. The employee waited a while longer for the pain to go away. By now more than a year had passed since the accident and the wrist still hurt, so he went to see his doctor.
The doctor diagnosed a badly healed fracture of the wrist (the bones had not rejoined properly). The doctor told the worker that surgery would be required to correct the problem.
Following the diagnosis, the employee filed a workers’ compensation claim for the injury. The company denied the claim on the grounds that the worker had failed to give timely written notice of his injury as required by the state’s workers’ comp law, which required written notice within 90 days of the injury.
The case eventually ended up in court.
What the Court Said
The employee gave sufficient notice of the injury to qualify for benefits, ruled the Supreme Court of Oregon. The court said that by following the employer’s policy and reporting the injury to a supervisor immediately following the accident and recording the injury in the injury log, the employee had given adequate notice of the injury.
Then, within 30 days after the accident, the employee had twice more told his supervisor about the pain in his wrist and written entries in the injury log. In the court’s view, those reports were sufficient to put the employer on notice that the employee had suffered a wrist injury at work that might require medical treatment covered by workers’ comp.
What This Ruling Means
When a worker comes to you, your safety staff, or a supervisor complaining of any work-related injury or health problem, take action immediately. Investigate accidents, follow up on reported aches and pains that might be job-related, and follow your organization’s procedure for making sure employees get a proper medical evaluation and any necessary treatment for work-related injuries. Otherwise, an injury or illness could come back to haunt you months or even years later.