Unless they are familiar with the system, few people realize that Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation laws are tilted toward the employer and are considered to be very much pro-business and very much anti-worker. Cases for injured workers can be very difficult for the lawyers who handle these cases. My hat is off to those lawyers for their willingness to help workers at a time when they really need help. It’s a highly specialized field and lawyers who do that type work must be highly skilled and willing to face some tough laws when representing their clients.
One such case involved an employee named Thomas Singleton. On a date in 2003, Thomas Singleton called in sick to work. He told his supervisor that he hurt his back the day before while emptying the trash can. One of his job duties at work was to empty a fifty-five gallon trash can at the end of his shift. The employee was unable to return to work because of his back injury, so he filed for workers’ compensation benefits. The trial court awarded full permanent total disability benefits. His employer, Kiva Dunes, appealed the award. Kiva Dunes claimed that the phone call did not provide adequate notice that the injury was work-related. Under Alabama law, an injured employee has ninety days to inform his or her employer of a work-related injury. If the employee fails to do so, coverage can be denied. The Court of Civil Appeals sided with Kiva Dunes and reversed the trial court’s ruling.
Mr. Singleton then filed a petition to the Supreme Court of Alabama. That Court sided with the trial court and reversed the court of appeals’ decision. The Court held that Mr. Singleton’s statement during the November 10, 2003 telephone call to his supervisor that he had injured his back “while emptying the trash can” was adequate notice for a reasonable person to know that his injury was work-related. His employer knew that Mr. Singleton emptied the fifty-five gallon trash can at the end of the day as one of his job requirements. Common sense would tell a reasonable person that this statement satisfies the ninety day notice requirement. It’s good to see the Court doing the right thing in a worker’s case. Thankfully, the Justices ruled in favor of the injured worker instead of protecting an insurance carrier. That’s a very good sign!
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