Safety and OSHA News

Could workers’ comp be denied because employee didn’t report specific injury?

This employee reported a workplace injury on the day it happened. The next day, he felt pain in another part of his body. Was failure to mention the newer pain enough to deny some of his workers’ comp benefits? 

Kenneth Jones was injured on July 13, 2011, while assembling parts for Harley-Davidson Motor Company in Missouri. Jones reported the injury that day, saying a pneumatic gun “just jerked” while he was holding it with both hands.

On the injury form, Jones checked the box for injury to his “arms/shoulders” and specified stinging fingers and sharp, radiating pain from his right elbow. The same day, a doctor diagnosed Jones with a right elbow sprain. He was fitted with a sling and given significant work restrictions.

The next day, Jones felt back pain which intensified over the coming weeks. On Sept. 27, 2011, Jones went to the ER for the back pain. A week later, a doctor diagnosed Jones with spondylolisthesis, a condition marked by instability to the back. The spondylolisthesis was a pre-existing condition, but the doctor believed Jones’s work injury was the prevailing factor in his current medical condition. The doctor advised Jones to notify his employer, which Jones did.

However, Harley-Davidson refused Jones’s request for workers’ comp benefits for low back treatment. The company said it hadn’t received proper notice about any back injury.

Missouri’s workers’ comp law requires an employee to give the employer notice of injury “no later than thirty days after the accident.”

An administrative law judge found Jones’s elbow and low back injuries occurred in the course and scope of his employment, and Harley-Davidson was given notice as required by law. The Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission agreed. Harley-Davidson appealed to a state court.

Company claims it couldn’t investigate

Harley-Davidson argued that state law required employees to identify the exact body location of a compensable injury. The company says without that information, it couldn’t investigate the circumstances surrounding the injury in a timely manner.

But the court noted Jones reported his injury on the day it happened, “thus giving Employer the opportunity to investigate the circumstances in the case.”

“It makes no difference whether the immediate injury was to Jones’s elbow or later to Jones’s back, as both injuries arose from the same accident,” the court wrote.

The court also noted that on the first day a doctor told him his back injury was work-related, Jones reported that to his employer on the same day.

For those reasons, the state court upheld the previous ruling. Jones gave sufficient notice of his elbow and back injury to receive workers’ compensation benefits for both.

(Harley-Davidson Motor Company Inc. v. Kenneth Jones, Missouri Court of Appeals Western District, No. WD81155, 8/28/18)

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