Clock doesn't run on claim until doctor reveals source of pain
Pinnacle Foods v. Chandler, No. 175, 2011 (Del. 08/16/11).
Ruling: The Delaware Supreme Court held that a worker's claim was not barred by the two-year statute of limitations.
What it means: In Delaware, the limitations period for filing a workers' compensation claim begins when the worker should have been aware of the nature, seriousness, and compensability of her injury.
Summary: A worker for a pickle processing plant experienced pain in her lower back, but it did not interfere with her ability to work. Three years later, her pain increased and interfered with her work duties. She told her supervisor and the plant's human resources and safety manager, but she did not indicate that the pain was caused by work. Later, she told the manager she thought her pain was work-related. Her pain became severe, and she sought treatment in the emergency room. The doctor treated her for a back strain that was possibly caused by or related to her work. Later, she was diagnosed with a disk injury and an annular tear. A neurologist recommended surgery. The surgery was canceled because her health insurance carrier deemed the injury to be work-related. The worker sought benefits. The Delaware Supreme Court held that the worker's claim was not barred by the two-year statute of limitations.
The worker suffered from minor back pain for years but was able to manage the pain and did not miss work. The court said at that point, the worker did not realize the "seriousness" or "probable compensable nature" of her injury. Not until three years later did the worker's back pain increase, causing her to miss work and notify her supervisor and the manager. The court said the worker was not aware that her back pain was work-related until diagnosed by the emergency room doctor. Although the worker previously may have suspected that her job duties aggravated her back pain, the court said her suspicion, without more, was insufficient to make her condition compensable.
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September 29, 2011
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