There is a longstanding rule in the law called the Statute of Limitations. This rule provides for the period of time in which someone must file a claim or lawsuit. If the claim or lawsuit is not filed within this time frame, you have forfeited your right to any recovery. So, if you “sit” on your right to recovery for injuries or loss, you will waive that right. This rule provides certainty in life and business dealings that some incident that happened long ago will not come out of the woodwork and require payment of compensation to the injured party. This is why it is so important to make sure your claim is filed within the statutory time frame.
There are different statutes of limitations for different types of cases, such as personal injury or contract cases, and each state has their own set of rules for time limits. We are only addressing the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act here, and by extension, the Defense Base Act, Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Nonappropriated Fund Instrumentalities Act. If you are dealing with other types of claims, make sure you or your attorney checks on the appropriate time limit.
For claims under the LHWCA & its extensions, you have one year from the date of your injury to file your claim.
That being said, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if your employer has failed to file the Employer’s First Report of Injury (LS 202) with the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, you have one year from the date of filing of that report. The rule for employers is that they must file within 10 days of their knowledge of any injury which causes the loss of one or more of your shifts. There are penalties for employers who do not act in good faith in filing or who are habitually late in filing these forms.
If the claim is due to an occupational disease, such as hearing loss or lung conditions due to exposure to chemicals or asbestos, the filing requirement is two years from the date you first become aware of the relationship between the occupational disease, your disability, and your employment. This particular point in time may be difficult to establish, and you definitely need expert help when attempting to establish this type of claim. In some cases, the disease or condition does not even manifest itself until you have retired or left a job. This is true in cases of asbestos related diseases, or conditions that arise as a result of exposures to toxic substances.
Another exception to this time limit is if your employer has been paying you voluntarily prior to you making a claim. A claim for compensation is considered timely filed if voluntary payments without an award have been made and the claim is filed within one year after the date of the last payment.
Also, you must distinguish between a claim for compensation for the disability and a claim for medical benefits. A claim for medical benefits is not a claim for compensation for lost wages; it is a claim to be treated for an injury. Under the LHWCA, a claim for medical benefits is never time barred, but you should request your medical benefits as soon as treatment is necessary.
Understanding your rights and obligations under the LHWCA can be like driving on a mountain road with lots of twists and turns. You never know when you will drive unexpectedly off the cliff. It is always beneficial to have the assistance of experienced attorneys who know the roadmap of the rules and regulations of the various types of workers’ compensation laws. This will help avoid driving off that proverbial cliff!