Our lead workers’ compensation attorneys, Steve and George, have been avid baseball fans dating back to their childhood years in the Roanoke area. A famous saying by Branch Rickey (the man who brought Jackie Robinson to major league baseball) is that “Baseball is a game of inches.” Ironically, this saying is very relevant in the workers’ comp field; a case that George recently won before the Court of Appeals of Virginia clearly demonstrates this fact.
When an employee is injured on the job, the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act among other things requires the worker to give the employer notice of all affected body parts within two years of the accident. In George’s case, the claimant on his own gave notice of an injury to his “back” well within this period. Nevertheless, the employer argued that its workers’ compensation insurance did not cover treatment for the worker’s sacroiliac joint pain.
The “sacro” in sacroiliac joint refers to the sacrum, which is a large bone found between the two hip bones. The sacrum is composed of five fused vertebrae and commences at the end of the last unfused vertebra in the back. Logically, then, the sacrum is … wait for it . . . the bottom of the back! As a result, most folks would commonly use the term “back” for any point beginning at the neck’s junction with the top of the torso all the way down to the base of the back (i.e., the sacrum).
Regrettably, employers and workers’ compensation insurers aren’t “most folks.” The employer in this case argued that it was the employee’s pelvis, not his back, that was injured, and that the worker had failed to give notice of his pelvic pain within two years of the injury. (In other words, the employer wanted to stop the definition of “back” a few inches north of its common meaning.)
A Deputy Commissioner of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission agreed with the employer. Then George got involved. He gained a favorable ruling from the Full Commission, and the Court of Appeals upheld the Commission’s decision when the employer appealed. George’s advocacy for the claimant persuaded both the Commission and the Court of Appeals that, even if there was an issue with the employee’s description of the injured body parts, the facts and the law in this particular case allowed for an exception to the two-year rule.
This case is a great example of why an injured worker should always seek legal counsel . . . and fast! The Workers’ Compensation Act includes numerous deadlines, not just the two-year rule discussed here. HammondTownsend is here to serve you.