What Do You Think: Was Uniform ‘Obviously’ to Blame for Allergic Reaction?

Frank Ferreri

Harrisburg, PA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Flight attendants claiming work-related injuries from their uniforms are no strangers to WorkersCompensation.com. But when a US Airways flight attendant claimed that his rash and later infection stemmed from the uniform he had to wear for the airline, was it “obviously” job-related?

That question faced a Pennsylvania court recently.

Three years after beginning work for US Airways, the flight attendant received a new uniform. After wearing it, he developed a rash that spread from his neck and below his ear to other parts of his body.

After seeking treatment and notifying the airline of the rash, the flight attendant received a new uniform made by a different company. However, even after the switch, the flight attendant developed a rash on his neck and a lump under his right armpit. Eight months after the initial change in uniforms, he was hospitalized with cellulitis and a staph infection.

The flight attendant didn’t experience a reaction prior to wearing the new uniform nor did he have one after he stopped wearing it.

The flight attendant filed a claim for total disability benefits, and US Airways denied the allegations.

A workers’ compensation judge found that the flight attendant experienced a work-related injury in the form of an allergic reaction to his work uniform. In particular, the WCJ cited:

  • The initial treatment and hospital records.
  • Diagnostic studies.
  • The flight attendant’s “credible subjective complaints.”

On appeal, the review board reversed the decision, finding that the WCJ erred in concluding that the injury was “obviously work-related.” In turn, the flight attendant appealed to court.

Under Pennsylvania law, workers must show that their injury was “obviously work-related” to avoid having to prove a causal relationship between the injury and work. An obvious injury is one that “immediately manifests itself” while the worker “is in the act of doing the kind of work which can cause such an injury.”

Was the connection between the flight attendant’s infection and uniform obvious?

  1. Yes. The only time the flight attendant experienced the rash was during the time he wore the uniform.
  2. No. The timeline for the emergence of the flight attendant’s symptoms wasn’t clear enough to call the connection “obvious.”

If you chose B, you were on the same page as the court in Chidiac v. US Airways Inc., No. 406 C.D. 2020 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 03/23/21, unpublished), which upheld the board’s decision in the airline’s favor.

The court explained that there was a difference between a non-disabling rash and an infection eight months later for compensability purposes. Ultimately, the court held that not enough medical evidence connected the uniform to a work-related injury on the flight attendant’s part.

“As the causal connection between [the flight attendant] wearing his work uniform and his resulting staph infection is not obvious, [the flight attendant] is required to present unequivocal medical evidence to support his [claim],” the court wrote. “The board did not err in concluding that the [flight attendant’s] work injury was not obvious.”

This feature does not provide legal advice.

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