The statute of limitations is a set amount of time that an individual has to take a certain legal action. The workers’ compensation statute of limitations is two years in New Jersey. Generally, that is two years from the date of the initial work injury, but there are some exceptions and exclusions which will be discusses below.
It is important to note that the statute of limitations applies to filing a formal claim with the Division of Workers’ Compensation in New Jersey’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Many workers that become injured do not realize that the majority of compensation cases do not involve a formal claim filing and are settled outside of court. A mediation meeting or informal hearing between the employer’s insurance company and the employee’s lawyer is often all it takes to agree on a fair settlement.
However, the formal claim process is in place to resolve any disputes that arise and cannot be resolved outside of an official court system. It is then that an injured worker or their lawyer will file a formal claim with the state. Entering into a mediation or informal hearing process does not extend or delay the statute of limitations.
Because it’s not possible to predict whether a dispute will arise during mediation, it’s best to complete this informal process as soon as possible to account for any issues. That way if a formal claim does need to be filed, your lawyer can do so and develop a case for you well in advance of the two-year deadline. After that date, it will be extremely difficult if not impossible in most cases to file a formal claim, barring a few exceptions:
Types of occupational injuries, illnesses that develop over time, and repetitive stress or repetitive exposure injuries, warrant an exception. The statute of limitations is two years from the date that the individual first became aware of the condition and realized (or should have realized) it may be caused by work-related duties. Proof of this date may be required to determine the official statute of limitations and can be obtained with the help of a skilled and knowledgeable attorney.
Authorized Treatment or Disability Payments
The statute of limitations may be delayed if an injured worker 1) receives authorized medical treatment as appointed and paid for by their employer or its insurance company or 2) receives disability benefits from the employer or its insurance company. The deadline to file a formal claim will then be two years from the date of the last authorized medical or payment of disability. If any dispute should arise after some medical treatment or disability benefits have been paid, the worker will then have an extended opportunity to file a formal claim.
Progressive Conditions or Injuries that Worsen
Another case in which the statute of limitations may be altered is when a work injury unexpectedly (or expectedly) worsens and the worker then chooses they want to file a claim. A recent New Jersey case that covered this issue is Rajpaul v. McDonald’s Corporation, A-4681-13T4 (App. Div. August 28, 2015). Rajpaul suffered shoulder, wrist, and elbow pain and was diagnosed with bilateral bicipital tendonitis in 2001 after working at McDonald’s for six years.
He remained in his position for four more years and sought further treatment for shoulder pain in 2005. He left his position later that year and the next year was diagnosed with a left shoulder rotator cuff tear that required surgery. He then filed a workers’ compensation claim for an occupational injury against McDonald’s, which the company denied, citing that the statute of limitations had passed.
Upon appeal, both sides argued when the statute of limitations should begin and end in this case. New Jersey law states that a workers’ compensation claim must be filed within two years from when the nature of the condition is known and connected with work duties. Rajpaul argued that though he suffered should problems in 2001, he was not told he had a rotator cuff tear until 2006. McDonald’s argued that this condition was simply a progressive disease due to tendonitis and Rajpaul was aware (or should have been) that this could worsen.
The Appellate Division agreed with Rajpaul. Even though he knew of his prior diagnosis of tendonitis in 2001, they found that this does not mean he also had sufficient knowledge of a torn rotator cuff based on that diagnosis: “…we disagree with the compensation judge’s determination that petitioner had sufficient knowledge of a torn rotator cuff, based on previous treatment for tendonitis, to trigger the statute of limitations under N.J.S.A. 34:15-34.”
Workers’ Compensation Lawyer in New Jersey
Even though there may be some exceptions to the statute of limitations, these are difficult to obtain and therefore you should never purposefully delay your claim. If you have been injured at work you should make every effort to complete the steps of the workers’ compensation process in a timely manner: give notice of injury, request medical care, contact a lawyer, and file a claim with your employer’s insurance company. However, if the statute of limitations has run out for whatever reason and you still wish to file a claim, all hope may not be lossed. You should consult with a skilled lawyer as soon as possible to discuss any options you may have.
If you need to file a workers’ compensation claim or have any questions about the statute of limitations in New Jersey, The Hayes Firm can help. Please contact us today and we can connect you with a skilled, local lawyer completely for free.