STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR PENNSYLVANIA WORKER’S COMPENSATION CASES?
In Pennsylvania civil and administrative law, if you want to file a lawsuit or file a claim for damages, you will usually have a certain period of time in which you will need to file that lawsuit or claim and if you don’t file within that period of time, you will be barred from pursuing the claim in the future. The Statute of limitations is a defense whereby an insurance company can prevent you from filing a claim even though you may have sustained a work injury. Essentially, it is a “ticking clock” within which time you are able to file a workers’ compensation claim. If you go beyond that time, your claim will be barred.
In a Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation claim petition, you have three years from the injury, or in some cases from initial date of disability. Pennsylvania is a disability state, and disability means wage loss. In cases of repetitive trauma, if you are unable to work due to repeated trauma to a body part, your last day of work becomes your date of disability. Repetitive trauma-type injuries usually include injuries such as carpal tunnel or overuse syndrome of your shoulder or back. As a precaution, you should always have medical evidence indicating that you were no longer able to work as of your last day of work due to the repetitive trauma injury or a “regular” injury. If you do not lose any time from work , the three year statute of limitations the three year statute of limitations could start to run on the date of your diagnosis. If the employer issues a medical only Notice of Compensation Payable has been issued, a Claim Petition must be filed within the 3 years of the date of the injury or disability. Further, if you fail to provide your employer with “notice”, i.e. telling the proper supervisor, safety coordinator, Human Resource Manager or nurse that you sustained an injury within 120 from your work injury; you may also be barred from pursuing your claim.
What about a death claim? You have three years from the date of death, and the injured worker’s death must occur within 300 weeks after the work injury to be compensable.
The statute of limitations also applies to what is known as “specific loss claims.” What is a specific loss? Specific loss applies to a specific set of injuries or disfigurement as defined by the Worker’s Compensation Act. Specific loss injuries include a scar above the clavicle on the face, neck, not usually incident to work or a loss of a body part for all practical intents and purposes. The date when you are notified by a physician of a loss of the member for all “practical intents and purposes” will generally begin to run the statute of limitations.
There are two different scenarios in calculating the statute of limitations in a specific loss case. The first example involves a specific loss while the injured worker is receiving ongoing workers’ compensation benefits. The second example examines what happens if the only claim is for one where no wage lost benefits have been paid or are ongoing.
If the specific loss or disfigurement is for an officially-recognized work injury and benefits are being paid, a claim for a disfigurement is timely regardless of the time the disfigurement became permanent. The most common example involves an accepted work injury to the neck and a scar on the neck from surgery.
If, on the other hand, the only claim is for a disfigurement or specific loss, the 3 year statute of limitations applies unless the injured worker can prove that disfigurement became permanent within three years of filing a disfigurement claim.
What can extend the statute of limitations? Under Section 315 of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, payments in lieu of compensation would extend it. That includes regular payment of benefits from a general fund, regular payments from sick and accident or “relief” funds contributed to by the employer; payment of disability pension; possibly an unemployment compensation benefit; and payment for no-work jobs. The burden of proof is on the Claimant to prove that the payments were for workers’ compensation. The relevant Section for this is Section 315 of the Act.
Another important extender is if the employer deceives, either intentionally or unintentionally, and lulls the Claimant into a false sense of security. Likewise, the statute can be tolled or stopped is if there was a recognized injury and payment in another state for the same injury.
Often times, we will get a client that comes in and says “they have accepted my compensation case because they have paid my medical bills.” This is a common misconception. Please note that PAYMENT OF MEDICAL BILLS ON THEIR OWN IS NEITHER AN ADMISSION OF LIABILITY NOR AN EXTENSION OF TIME UNDER THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS. You should immediately contact a qualified workers’ compensation attorney to review your case to ensure that you are within the 3 year time frame. If you have questions regarding your eligibility for Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation Benefits, you should speak to an experienced Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation attorney to ensure that your claim is properly preserved within the statute of limitations. Contact our office to provide a free evaluation of your case at 717-238-1657.