From the Files of Powell and Denny
Today in “From the Files of Powell and Denny” we are taking a look at a workers compensation case we handled in Jefferson County, Alabama 10 years ago.
Our client was an employee of Thompson Tractor as a heavy equipment operator. One day at work our client slipped in some oil on the floor and fell awkwardly, injuring his right arm, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand and right leg. Notice of the injury was immediately given to his employer and he was told to see the company physician, Dr. Slappy at The WorkDoc.
After not seeing any real benefit in the treatment he was receiving, our client requested a Panel of Four and choose Dr. Bramlett as his new treating physician. Given his injuries, Dr. Bramlett ended up performing surgery on our client’s right shoulder for a torn rotator cuff and referred our client to Dr. Sherrill for surgery on his right wrist for traumatic carpel tunnel syndrome. These surgeries took place over a two-year period, and three years later he required an additional surgery on his right shoulder and was told that surgery was needed on his elbow for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome-but while waiting to have elbow surgery the workers’ compensation insurance carrier cancelled the surgery because they claimed the statute of limitations had expired. That is when our firm was hired.
You see, our client had last received temporary total disability benefits (ttd) three years earlier, and therefore workers comp argued his statute of limitations had expired and therefore they would not provide our client with further medical care or monetary compensation. When we initially met, I informed our client that even if his statute of limitations had expired, by law he would still be entitled to reasonable and necessary medical treatment; however, after talking through the facts with him I found out that while our client was returned to work and his ttd check was cut off 3 years earlier, he had continued seeking medical treatment and physical therapy during the 3 year period-and he was paid his full wages even though he often only worked 2-5 hours a week during this time.
We immediately filed suit, and shortly afterwards the defense attorneys filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that the statute of limitations had expired. Our client provided us with a print out of his time sheets, and we requested additional documentation from the defense attorney, and we were able to provide evidence that during the time frame in question, our client was paid his full wages-even for time he was not present or performing any work for his employer, and that his employer knew that the reason he was not at work during these dates was because he was seeking medical care for his job injuries.
Ala.Code §25-5-80 sets forth the statute of limitations in workers’ compensation cases. Generally, in cases arising from a traumatic event/accident, the injured workers has two years from the date of their job injury to have settled their claim or filed suit;
“…however, payments of compensation, as distinguished from medical or vocational payments, have been made in any case, the period of limitation shall not begin to run until the time of making the last payment.”
“Thus, although ordinarily the limitations period commences from the date of the accident, see Ingalls Shipbuilding Corp. v. Cahela, 251 Ala. 163, 167, 36 So.2d 513, 515 (1948), in cases in which an employer voluntarily pays compensation, the limitations period does not commence until the last payment of compensation is made. See B.F. Goodrich Co. v. Parker, 282 Ala. 151, 209 So.2d 647 (1967)(emphasis added). In this context “compensation” refers to “[t]he money benefits to be paid on account of injury or death, as provided in Articles 3 and 4.” Ala.Code 1975, § 25-5-1(1)…. However, the appellate courts of this state have been hesitant to adopt any per se rule that automatically qualifies certain payments as “compensation” for the purpose of tolling the statute of limitations. See Head, 274 Ala. at 523, 150 So.2d at 393 (“On the other hand, this court would probably be hesitant to announce an absolute rule that wages paid under such conditions were always compensation that tolled the statute.”). Instead, the courts of this state have preferred to adopt multipart tests to determine if, in fact, payments made outside of Articles 3 and 4 of the Alabama Act may properly be classified as “compensation” that would toll the limitations period. See Head, supra (adopting three-part test to determine if wages should be considered “compensation”) Robert Burton & Associates, Ltd. v. Morris, 999 So. 2d 927, 929-930 (Ala. Civ. App. 2007) aff’d sub nom. Ex parte Morris, 999 So. 2d 932 (Ala. 2008)
We were able to successfully argue to the Judge Helen Shores Lee that in paying our client for work that was not performed-with the knowledge that the reason our client was not working was because he was seeking medical treatment for his work injury tolled the statute of limitations. Judge Lee ruled in our favor, our client then received his elbow surgery, was able to return to his job and settled his case with lifetime future medical benefits left open.
Just because the workers’ compensation adjuster tells you there is nothing you can do doesn’t make it true. Alabama’s workers’ compensation laws are complex and a decision cannot flippantly be made without delving deeper into the facts of each individual case. That is why it is so important to seek the advice of any experienced Alabama Job Injury attorney when you suffer a work injury. I could not tell you the number of times an injured worker has called our office for some information-which we freely provided. Slight injuries may not call for hiring a lawyer, but even small injuries can have large repercussions, so you should always speak with a knowledgeable workers compensation lawyer just to go over any questions you have.
On our website we have over 450 blogs and a section of Frequently Asked Questions on Alabama workers’ compensation issues (FAQ), and we freely provide a copy of our booklet which review our workers compensation laws because we want injured workers to know what they may be entitled to.
If you have suffered a work injury and have questions about your right to Alabama Workers’ Compensation benefits -don’t hesitate to contact Powell and Denny and speak with one of the experienced workers compensation lawyers and schedule a free consultation. Appointments are available in person, or virtually through Zoom for your convenience from wherever you live.
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From the Files of Powell and Denny