Elliott v. Department of Labor and Industries, No. 62423-7-I (Wash. Ct. App. 08/03/09).
The Washington Court of Appeals ruled that the worker's claim was properly denied, as his mental condition did not meet the criteria for an occupational disease which would extend the deadline for filing a claim.
What it means:
In Washington state, a worker injured on the job must file a claim within one year of the day on which the injury occurred. A worker who contracts an occupational disease must file a claim within two years of the day he finds out about the disease. A worker's stress resulting from exposure to a single traumatic event is adjudicated as an occupational "injury" rather than an occupational "disease" and the time for filing is not extended for such mental health conditions.
A worker filed an application for benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder 14 months after he witnessed a fellow worker fall to his death on a jobsite. His claim was denied as untimely. The worker contended that the one-year statute of limitations for "injuries" should be extended to include claims where a specific event results in latent disabilities that are not detected until after the one-year period has expired. Alternatively, he argued the delay in his condition's manifestation should put his condition in the category of occupational disease rather than an injury. Thus, he argued, his claim was timely because he filed immediately after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Washington Court of Appeals said it could not relax the statute of limitations where the legislature expressed its intent to allow a time of manifestation or "discovery" rule only for occupational diseases, not injuries. Further, the court pointed out the law specifically excludes mental conditions or disabilities caused by stress from falling into the category of occupational disease. It held that because the worker did not file a claim within one year of the traumatic event, his claim was properly time-barred.
The court pointed out that even though witnessing the death did not produce immediate symptoms, the statute of limitations began to run the day of the accident. It explained that an injury is indistinguishable from the accident which caused it, and regardless of when the physical effects of the injury become manifest, the injury occurs and the one-year statute of limitations begins to run on that date.
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October 1, 2009
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