Date of first medical treatment starts the clock for injured worker
Case name: In re James Sullivan's case, No. 08-P-108 (Mass. Ct. App. 12/22/09).
Ruling: The Massachusetts Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the worker's claim because it was time-barred.
What it means: In Massachusetts, an injured worker must file a workers' compensation claim within four years of the date the worker first became aware of the connection between his disability and his employment. The date of disability includes the first date the worker sought medical treatment for the injury without regard to his actual incapacity to work.
A parish custodian injured his knee when he stepped off a ladder in 1999. He sought medical treatment three days later. He filed a workers' compensation claim in 2004, almost one year after the limitation period had run. The employer argued the custodian's claim was barred by the four-year statute of limitations. The custodian contended that, at the earliest, the period commenced in 2003 when he was laid off from the parish and therefore incapacitated. The Court of Appeals held his claims were time-barred. It held the limitation period began to run when the custodian became aware of the connection between his disability and his employment, which was no later than three days after the accident when he sought medical treatment. It also pointed out the difference between the medical elements (disability) and incapacity (loss of earning capacity) and rejected the custodian's argument that the time period did not begin to run until he could no longer work.
The custodian alternatively argued that the time period did not begin to run until his doctor officially found that his injury was causally connected to his disability in 2004. The court noted that there was no difference between the date of injury and the time the custodian became aware of the casual relationship between his disability and his employment. The court pointed out that it was not necessary for the custodian to know the exact diagnosis for the condition so long as he knew enough to realize that it was both serious and work-connected.
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February 8, 2010
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