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One year statute of limitations for workers compensation claims in California

In my interactions with employers the question about one year statute of limitations defense for a workers compensation claim (for a single incident) is brought up on a regular basis. Most employers don’t know to establish the one year statute of limitations defense an employer must meet its burden of proof that an applicant had actual knowledge of their eligibility for workers compensation benefits. Some of us might scratch our heads on this one? Let’s review the case of:

C.I.G.A. v. W.C.A.B (2008) 73 Cal. Comp. Cases 771 Second District

In this case, David Carls reported to work, in 1997, two hours early and during that time he stepped in a hole and twisted his body. He then went to the company office and laid on the floor. An injury report was completed but he was told, by his supervisor, that since his injury occurred prior to his shift, it was not considered work related. His employer did not give him a workers compensation claim form (DWC1). He received medical treatment. A few years later(in 2004) he filed his claim for this injury.  (some additional history ) Carls had suffered a work injury in 1996 received benefits and litigated that one in 1999 (he was familiar with workers compensation rights and benefits for his 1996 injury)

The court held that the employer did not meet its burden of proof that Carls was aware of his rights (for the 1997 injury), they stated in part: …Whether it was compensable depended upon whether “at the time of injury, (Carls was) performing service growing out of and incidental to his… employment and acting within the course of his employment”… The record contains no evidence suggesting that Carls had any reason to doubt his employer’s implication that the injury was not compensable. On the contrary, Carls testified that he sought treatment from his own physician. Thus, Carls awareness of his right to compensation for the 1996 injury did not necessarily inform him of his potential right to compensation for the 1997 injury. We conclude that such evidence was insufficient to overcome the presumption that Carls was ignorant to his compensation rights…

My lesson from the Carls case is, if an employee reports an industrial injury that results in time off beyond the employee’s work shift, at the time of the injury, or results in a need for medical treatment beyond first aid, GIVE the employee a claim form (DWC1) and document that you did. An employer should never deny workers compensation benefits to an employee,  leave that up to the insurance carrier. In all, I tell employers there is NO statute of limitations when a claim form is NOT provided.

Rene Sanchez