It Is Possible To Win A Statute Of Limitations Case

A recent appellate court decision evaluated the difference in applying the statute of limitations for a specific injury versus a continuous trauma.  The standard to be applied is easier for the specific injury.

The applicant worked for the Cucamonga Unified School District when she felt a specific shock to her back in March 1992. She did not report the injury because she thought it was a “one time thing”. Thereafter, she went to a doctor and received a cortisone shot to her back. She only missed one day of work attributable to her injury the rest of the school year.  A doctor did not inform her that the back injury was work-related until the summer of 1993. Applicant filed a claim November 1993 alleging a specific injury in March 1992. At trial applicant testified that the injury was really a continuous trauma.

Labor Code section 5405(a) deals with the statute of limitations for specific injuries. The Court determined that she suffered an “injury” because “she immediately experienced impairment of function which affected her ability to perform certain activities, including those required for her work”.

The WCJ viewed the case as a cumulative trauma and applied Labor Code section 5412. “For the purposes of such cases, the ‘date of injury’ is ‘the date upon which the employee first suffered disability therefrom and either knew, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, that such disability was caused by his present or prior employment. “’

The Court then analyzed the statute of limitations cases and differentiated them from the present case. The court evaluated those cases that indicated a lay persons opinion of injury was not sufficient to trigger the statute of limitations and medical opinion was needed. This Court gives us the following rule.

“Certainly in many cases the timing of a medical report or doctor’s opinion that a condition is industrially related will be of considerable significance in the determination of when an employee acquired knowledge of causation. This would generally be true, for example, in latent disease cases or cases involving illness from toxic exposure; we are even prepared to recognize that the source of some heart and stress problems may not be correctly identified by the lay employee. But where an employee suffers a sudden pain while performing a physically stressful activity, no expert confirmation is necessary.”

Thus, it would appear clear from this decision that if the applicant has a specific orthopedic injury he/she will have one year to file a claim. This information is best attained to apply this defense through proper discovery. A history of when the injury was first reported as well as deposition testimony will be crucial in establishing the defense.

Case: CUSD V. W.C.A.B. (Ingram)

Harvey Brown
3501 Jamboree Rd. Suite 602
Newport Beach, CA 92660

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