Lack of proof of mental incompetence stymies attempt to extend time
Case name: Felder v. U.S. Steel Corp. f/k/a USX Corp., No. 93A02-0911-EX-1157 (Ind. Ct. App. 04/07/10, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the denial of benefits to a worker injured in 1980. The worker failed to prove he was entitled to a tolling of the limitations period because of mental incompetence. As a result, his claim was untimely.
What it means: The Indiana Workers' Compensation Act gives workers two years after the date of injury to file a claim for benefits. However, a claim may be filed after the passage of two years if the worker establishes that mental incompetence prevented him from timely filing a claim. A doctor's testimony that the worker was "at an increased risk for incompetence" is not sufficient to prove that he was in fact incompetent.
Summary: A laborer was injured during a workplace altercation in 1980. He filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits in 2004. The Court of Appeals upheld the Workers' Compensation Board's denial of his claim, concluding that the laborer's evidence was inadequate to prove that mental incapacity prevented him from filing the claim in a timely manner.
Indiana law generally allows a two-year window for filing a claim but allows the limitations period to be tolled if the worker establishes mental incapacity. The court determined that the opinion submitted by the worker's doctor did not support a finding of mental incompetence sufficient to toll the statute of limitations. The doctor diagnosed paranoid personality disorder and mild depression and reported that the laborer was impaired and had an "increased risk of incompetence."
An elevated chance of becoming incompetent was not the equivalent of a diagnosis of actual incompetence, the court decided. In fact, the doctor "at no time stated that [the laborer] was incompetent." The court also referenced another doctor's testimony that the laborer was competent and intelligent. The board was entitled in its position as fact finder to rely on this doctor's testimony, even if the other doctor had opined that the laborer was incompetent. However, as neither doctor issued such an opinion, the court agreed with the board that the laborer's evidence of incapacity was lacking.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
July 1, 2010
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