The 120-day notice period that a claimant has to inform his employer of a work-related hearing loss does not begin until the claimant is informed of the problem by a doctor, the state Supreme Court ruled in Socha v. WCAB on Nov. 5, 2001.
The ruling was the result of a work-related hearing loss incurred by Emil Socha. According to the opinion, Socha has been employed by Bell Atlantic-Pennsylvania, Inc., since 1968. Between 1968 and 1984, Socha was responsible for maintaining and repairing line-switching equipment, including work with diesel engines, generators, air compressors, and other machinery. Socha was exposed to considerable occupational noise, and was not originally allowed to wear protective devices for his hearing. In 1984, Socha was moved to another of the company�s plants, where he began wearing hearing protection devices provided by Bell Atlantic. However, he was not always able to wear the devices, as it would hinder his job performance.
In 1990, Socha underwent an examination given by Bell Atlantic to renew his commercial driver�s license. At that time, he was informed of a hearing loss that might preclude him from renewing his license in the future. Socha also admitted knowing that exposure to loud noise could cause hearing loss.
The next hearing test given to Socha was on Sept. 6, 1995. The examining physician notified Socha�s attorney that same day of his opinion that Socha suffered hearing loss due to his line of work. On Sept. 25, 1995, Socha filed a workers� compensation claim petition for his hearing loss and also sent notice of his injury to his employer. The employer denied the claim, saying that Socha had not provided the employer with notice as required by Section 311 of the Workers� Compensation Act. The employer claimed Socha knew of the injury since the initial examination in 1990.
The workers� compensation judge ruled that, since the revision to the act regarding hearing loss was not in effect until Feb. 23, 1995, Socha could not have filed a claim in 1990. Therefore, it ruled that the notice period began on Feb. 23, 1995, due to Socha�s existing knowledge of the problem. The Workers� Compensation Appeal Board affirmed the order.
The Commonwealth Court then reversed the decision. The court opined that the employer�s "examination of claimant in 1990 for a commercial driver�s license and the corresponding notice to claimant that he suffered some hearing loss, contrary to the WCJ�s statement, did not afford claimant knowledge or notice that such hearing loss was work-related or that he suffered sufficient hearing loss exceeding the ten percent threshold required for benefits under Section 306(c)(8)(iii) of the Act."
The court held that the 120-day notice period did not begin until Sept. 6, 1995, when Socha was examined by his physician and his attorney was informed of the hearing loss.
Justice Thomas Saylor, writing the opinion for the Supreme Court on appeal, said that, "Section 308(c)(8)(ix) aligns the date of injury for occupational hearing loss with the filing of a claim petition, or, alternatively, the date upon which long-term exposure to occupational noise ceased. Applied in connection with Section 311�s 120-day notice provision, the effect of a plain meaning interpretation would be to alleviate the burden upon claimants to react to incremental changes in their auditory profile, particularly while they continue to work and suffer noise exposure with the employer subject to liability."
The court went on to say, "Since we discern no statutory basis for limiting the effect of Section 308(c)(8)(ix) to calculation of benefits determinations, we conclude that, pursuant to such provision, claimant satisfied the notice requirement of Section 311 concurrent with the filing of his claim petition." The Commonwealth Court ruling was affirmed.
Back to PaTLA