Failure to Send Certified Mail to Court Sinks Worker’s Attorney’s Fees Appeal

Frank Ferreri

Harrisburg, PA ( – When a deadline looms for mailing something to a court, sending it certified mail is a best practice for making sure it meets timeliness rules.

As a worker learned in Woodley v. Independence Blue Cross, No. 5 C.D. 2021 (Pa. Comww. Ct. 07/27/21, unpublished), filling a form at the post office could have saved her appeal on an attorney’s fees ruling from being rejected for arriving in the relevant court office too late.

Contingent Fee Agreement

A worker filed a claim petition alleging bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, anxiety, and numbness in both feet, seeking temporary totally disability benefits. Later, the worker filed a claim petition alleging a cumulative stress injury arising from overuse of both hands and wrists, contending that she was totally disabled.

The workers’ compensation judge granted the petition and ordered the employer to pay the worker $703.30 per week in TTD benefits with credits to the employer for employer-funded disability benefits and wages earned. The WCJ approved a 20 percent contingent fee agreement and further ordered that the fee be calculated after deduction of the credit for employer-funded disability benefits.

Later the WCJ amended the decision and changed the worker’s benefit rate to $512.50 per week. The worker appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board on the contingent fee calculation, and the board affirmed. The worker appealed to court.

Mail Delays

The court directed the parties to address whether the worker’s appeal was untimely due to delays that occurred related to budget cuts at the U.S. Postal Service causing her petition for review to arrive late.

A Pennsylvania rule requires a petition for review to be filed with the appellate court within 30 days after the board’s order. In this case, the board entered its order on Dec. 8, 2020, and the worker’s petition did not arrive until Jan. 11, 2021.

Thus, the court held that the petition was not timely filed.

The worker countered with evidence that the envelope she mailed the document in had a postmark date of Jan. 4, 2021. However, the court observed that the envelope did not include the identity of the case to which it pertained. As a result, the only point the envelope could prove was that the worker’s attorney mailed something to the court.

Had the worker submitted a time-stamped Form 3817, which is a USPS certificate of mailing, with the docket number indicated, the court could have accepted the envelope as evidence of the worker’s timely filing of her petition.

However, because she did not, and because “delays in the … mail are both foreseeable and avoidable,” the court reject the worker’s appeal.

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