A security officer worked for a company that served as a federal contractor. After completing a half-mile run as a part of an annual fitness certification, the officer experienced shortness of breath and was taken to a hospital. His primary-care physician diagnosed him with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The officer also received treatment from a pulmonary specialist. The officer had smoked cigarettes daily for over 25 years.
The officer filed a claim for benefits with the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs. The officer signed the form declaring that the information he listed was true. The form indicated that the work-related claims were chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a pulmonary embolism. Afterward, his physician and the specialist discussed with him a connection between his work and the lung disease.
More than one year later, the officer sued the company, alleging that his lung disease was caused by his exposure to various toxic substances in the course of his work.
The trial court held that the officer's lung disease was caused by his employment and that he was permanently and totally disabled as a result. However, the court found that the officer's claim was barred because the one-year statute of limitations began to run on the date he filed his claim with the federal government.
Was the trial court correct in finding the suit was barred?
A. No. The officer's application for federal benefits did not show that he had knowledge that his illness was work-related.
B. Yes. The signed federal claim form was an acknowledgement by the officer that he knew that his illness was work-related.
C. No. The officer did not have the medical expertise to make the causal connection between his work exposure and his lung disease.
How the court ruled: B. The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the officer's claim was not filed in a timely manner because at the time he filed for federal benefits, he knew or should have known that his illness was work-related. Mayton v. Wackenhut Services, Inc., No. E2010-00907-WC-R3-WC (Tenn. 07/18/11, unpublished).
The officer observed that his application for federal benefits began a process and did not amount to a finding that his condition was work-related. The court concluded that the form signed by the officer provided a reasonable basis for the trial court to conclude that he knew or should have known that his lung disease was work-related.
A is incorrect. The court explained that the officer presented no authority supporting a conclusion that a doctor's diagnosis was required to show that a worker had knowledge that his condition was work-related. Evidence was presented that the worker stated that the condition was work-related.
C is incorrect. The court explained that while expert medical testimony is required to prove causation, the issue was whether the officer knew or should have known that he suffered from an occupational disease caused by his workplace.
This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
October 13, 2011
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