Employee's receipt of short-term disability benefits can't rescue late claim
Case name: Bynum v. Anderson Tully Lumber Co. and Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co., No. 2008-WC-00506-COA (Miss. Ct. App. 11/25/08).
What it means: Where an employer pays an injured worker short-term disability payments clearly labeled as "sick pay" for approximately one year, such payments do not qualify as wages for purposes of tolling the statute of limitations. Further, an employer's failure to file a first notice of injury does not bar it from raising a statute of limitations defense where it was not aware the worker had a compensable injury.
Summary: In February 2001, a forklift operator reported that his leg and hip were sore as a result of a collision with another operator. Approximately one month later, the claimant reported that his back hurt. However, he did not attribute his back complaints to the collision. He had a prior back injury that was unrelated to work. Although he had lifting restrictions, he was cleared for light-duty work. The employer did not have any light-duty positions available, so it placed him on short-term disability and paid him $200 per week for approximately one year. When he failed to return to work, the employer terminated him. In December 2003, the worker claimed that his back condition was related to the forklift collision or in the alternative that his injury was due to "prolonged repetition." The Court of Appeals agreed with the commission that the claim was time-barred.
In Parchman v. Amwood Prods., 988 So.2d 346 (Miss. 2008), the Mississippi Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations was tolled because the employer continued to pay the claimant's wages despite his absence from work. In contrast, the Court of Appeals explained that the forklift operator received payments clearly labeled as sick pay, which were short-term disability payments, not wages. Further, there was no evidence that the employer was aware that the employee hurt his back as a result of the forklift collision.
The Court of Appeals also rejected the claimant's argument that the employer could not assert a statute of limitations defense because it failed to file a first notice of injury as required by Mississippi law. An employer and its insurance carrier cannot deny that the two-year limitations period is tolled if they have not complied with this notice requirement. However, because the employer was unaware that the employee missed work because of a compensable, work-related injury, the court concluded that it was not estopped from raising the statute of limitations as a defense.
January 12, 2009
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