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February 27, 2006

“Yellow Freight” And An Untimely Answer

Yellow Freight refers to a line of cases related to the Commonwealth Court’s 1981 Decision in Yellow Freight Sys., Inc. v. WCAB (Madara), 423 A.2d 1125 (Pa. Commw. 1981) that defined the significant negative ramifications for the untimely filing of an Answer to Claim Petition.

An Answer to Claim Petition must be filed no later than the 20th day after the assignment of the Claim Petition to a workers’ compensation judge. An untimely Answer to Claim Petition constitutes an admission of all factual allegations in the Claim Petition. A claimant still bears the burden of proving all elements of the claim, but a well-pled Petition contains all the facts necessary to meet that burden of proof. This includes conclusions drawn from the facts admitted by the late-filed Answer. In other words, though the late Answer does not admit conclusions, it does admit all the facts necessary for a judge to reach the conclusions required for the granting of the Claim Petition.

In a Yellow Freight situation with a well pled Claim Petition, a claimant’s entitlement to benefits (to the extent alleged in the Claim Petition) is established through at least the last day of the period for filing a timely Answer to Claim Petition. Generally speaking, in a Yellow Freight situation with a well-pled Petition, the employer must shift its focus to mitigating its exposure from the 21st day (following the assignment of the Claim Petition) forward.

The primary way to avoid the Yellow Freight admissions is to prove to a workers’ compensation judge that there was an “adequate excuse” for the late-filed Answer, and that the Answer was timely filed but for the incident giving rise to the adequate excuse that tolls the deadline for filing the Answer to Claim Petition for a limited period of time. For example, a judge might rule that a massive storm that delayed postal service to both the employer and carrier for a one week period is an adequate excuse. However, if the Answer was not filed within one week of the normal 20 day deadline, the judge would have to find that the Answer was nevertheless untimely. Accordingly, it is imperative to file a late Answer to Claim Petition as soon as possible so as to afford the defendants every opportunity to prove an adequate excuse. Unfortunately, judges only rarely determine that an adequate excuse existed in Yellow Freight situations. Therefore, it is of primary importance that a timely Answer be filed in all cases. 

What It Means to You

Late filed Answers are often crippling to a defendant’s case and can lead to extensive litigation. Contact a member of Cipriani & Werner’s workers’ compensation group to review your Yellow Freight situation.
 

Sources

Yellow Freight Sys., Inc. v. WCAB (Madara), 423 A.2d 1125 (Pa. Commw. 1981)