Promise to take care of everything allows late claim to proceed
Case name: Schultz v. Pojaque Tribal Police Department, No. 33, 372 (N.M. 04/11/13).
Ruling: The New Mexico Supreme Court held that a widow's workers' compensation claim was timely filed.
What it means:
In New Mexico, if a worker entitled to workers' compensation fails to file a claim within the limitation period because the conduct of the employer reasonably led her to believe compensation would be paid, then the worker has a reasonable time to file.
Summary: A police officer took a day off work to chaperone a group of children from his church on a recreational outing. He drowned while rescuing a 12-year-old boy from a river. Members of the police department assured the officer's widow that they would "take care of everything for her," including workers' compensation paperwork. When the widow realized that the employer did not file a workers' compensation claim, she filed a complaint the same day, 45 days after the one-year statute of limitations expired. She claimed that the police department's conduct caused her to file after the deadline, so her claim should be considered timely. The New Mexico Supreme Court held that her claim was timely filed and remanded the claim for consideration of whether the officer died within the course and scope of his employment.
Under the statute, when a filing delay is caused "in whole or in part" by the employer's conduct, the delay "shall not deprive such person of the right to compensation." The court found that the statute was not "confined by the limits of tolling." The court held that if a worker entitled to workers' compensation failed to file a claim within the limitation period because the conduct of the employer reasonably led her to believe that compensation would be paid, the worker has a reasonable time to file a claim.
Here, the department assured the widow that it would "take care of everything for her" and promised to prepare the necessary paperwork for filing a workers' compensation claim. The court found that these promises were the functional equivalent of saying that it would do everything within its power to ensure that benefits were paid. The department's conduct allowed the widow a reasonable period of time to file a claim on her own. The court found that the widow filed her complaints within a reasonable time after the statute of limitations expired.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
July 22, 2013
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