Learning the Limitations

By Judge Thomas Wyatt, Chattanooga

Why you gotta be so mean?

Arnold H. Glasow was a twentieth-century American writer known for one-line descriptions of practices that breed success in business. Among his most familiar quotes is the admonition to “live so that your friends can defend you, but never have to.” Although written for a non-lawyer audience, another of Mr. Glasow’s truisms might merit inclusion in a trial lawyer’s list of practice reminders:  “Success is simple.  Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.”  (Emphasis added.)

As all workers’ compensation practitioners know, the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Law employs limitations periods to protect employers against defending stale claims. Most practitioners can quote the general statute of limitations found in Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-203(b) (2016), which provides that when an employer hasn’t paid benefits, the right to compensation is barred unless notice is given to the employer and a petition for benefit determination is filed with the bureau within one year after the accident resulting in injury. Further, when the employer has voluntarily paid benefits within one year following the accident resulting in injury, the right to compensation is barred unless a petition for benefit determination is filed with the bureau within one year from the latter of the date of the last authorized treatment or the time the employer ceased to make payments.

In addition to these limitations periods, the Workers’ Compensation Law includes the following limitations periods in which an employee or the employee’s beneficiaries must file a petition for benefit determination in order to pursue benefits:

(1)  Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-306(a): In occupational disease cases, one year from either the date of the beginning of the incapacity for work resulting from an occupational disease or from the date death results from an occupational disease;

(2) Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-306(b): In coal miner’s pneumoconiosis cases, three years from the date of the discovery of total disability, or the date of death, from coal worker’s pneumoconiosis;

(3) Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-203(d): One year from the date of the cessation of a physical or mental incapacity, other than minority, that causes a party under the obligation of a time limitation to be unable to perform or cause to be performed the act required to be completed within the stated limitations period;

(4) Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-203(e)(1): In a death claim, one year from the date of the employee’s work-related death, if the employer did not voluntarily settle or pay the death claim;

(5) Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-203(f): Where an employee’s case is dismissed because he or she did not participate in mandatory mediation, the employee must schedule and participate in mediation within sixty days after the issuance of the dismissal order;

(6) Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-203(i): One year after the date of default to pursue a judgment for benefits not paid under a settlement or determination awarding benefits;

(7) Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-203(j): Two years from the last date of payment where the employer paid permanent partial disability benefits, but failed to enter into a settlement agreement approved by a workers’ compensation judge; and,

(8) Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-239(c)(3): Ninety days from the date of the entry of an order of dismissal following a notice of nonsuit.

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In addition, Tennessee Compilation Rules & Regulations 0800-02-06-.07(6) (January 2017) establishes a seven-business-day limitations period to file a Petition for Benefit Determination to challenge the Medical Director’s determination following the appeal of a Utilization Review decision.  The limitations period begins to run on the date a party receives the Medical Director’s determination.

The careful workers’ compensation practitioner should be aware of each of the limitations periods set forth above. Immediately upon accepting a file, the prudent practitioner will determine the date on which all applicable limitations periods in the claim expire. From the outset of his or her receipt of the file, the careful practitioner will diary his or her daily-consulted calendar well in advance of the date on which the applicable limitations period expires with reminders as to when the applicable limitations periods expire. Although Mr. Glasow did not author these instructions, I am certain he would agree with them.

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