And this is a blog dedicated to Mississippi Workers' Compensation
Statue (sp?) of Limitations
From a defense standpoint, nothing brings about a Grinch-like smile on the face of your defense counsel quite like a potential statute of limitations defense. By definition, statutes of limitations are laws passed which set forth a maximum time after an event occurs within which legal proceedings may be initiated.
In Mississippi, as it relates to workers’ compensation claim, there are only two potentials for a statute of limitations defense. We have a one year and a two-year statute of limitations. For purposes of this blog entry, we will be tackling the one year statute of limitations defense. This is more common than the two-year statute of limitations, but is also much more convoluted.
First and foremost, “statute of limitations” is the correct term. It is not a “statue of limitations”, as some people mistakenly say. As Seinfeld will discuss below, we are not dealing with a sculpture of limitations.
If you happen to be one of my clients, or a client of our Firm, then you likely have one of our 2017 similar books and a quick reference guide. If not, please reach out to me and I can get one in your hands. The excerpt in our quick reference guide is as follows:
One-year statute: Upon its own initiative or upon the application of any party in interest on the ground of a change in conditions or because of a mistake in a determination of fact, the commission may, at any time prior to one (1) year after date of the last payment of compensation, whether or not a compensation order has been issued, or at any time prior to one (1) year after the rejection of a claim, review a compensation case, issue a new compensation order which may terminate, continue, reinstate, increase, or decrease such compensation, or award compensation.
In addition to the quick reference, please also reference pages 194-201 in the book for a more detailed analysis and case law.
For purposes of this blog, I want to discuss the most applicable purposes of the one year statute of limitations defense. Please note this only applies following a compensable claim where indemnity benefits have been paid. If no indemnity benefits have been paid, we will then look to a two-year statute of limitations defense, which will be discussed at a later date.
The Commission maintains jurisdiction over the claim one year after the date of the last payment of compensation or one year after the rejection of the claim. The Commission has authority to review the case during that time and even reopen the claim in the event that there is a material change in condition or mistake in determination of fact. While the Commission does maintain jurisdiction, that issue rarely arises and is a very hard burden to prove.
When discussing a one year statute of limitations defense, we are discussing the B-31, Notice of Final Payment. The employer/carrier are to file their B-31 within 30 days of the last date of compensation paid. Once the B-31 has been appropriately filed, your one year statute of limitations defense is secured one year from the date of the appropriate filing. The purpose of the B-31 is not to be contractual, but to provide notice to the claimant that he is receiving his final payment of compensation and that the employer/carrier consider the matter to be closed.
In an ideal world, once the claimant has been medically cleared and you have paid the last indemnity payment, the claimant would sign his/her B-31, it would be filed with the Commission and there would be no request for additional medical treatment thereafter. Whenever we settle a claim, as part of a term of the settlement, the claimant is to execute the B-31. Particularly when a claimant is represented, this rarely comes into issue.
Another instance where we file our B-31 is when a claimant is medically cleared and returns to work. If you do not place any value on the claim and it does not appear as though the claimant will continue treating, then it would be appropriate to file your B-31. However, please keep in mind that you run the risk that, in the event the claimant treats at any point during the time period during which your statute is running, you would then have to go through the process of filing your B-31 again. As an adjuster, or the person filing the B-31, this is a very arduous process at times, but could save your company tens of thousands of dollars if the claimant were to ultimately have significant treatment after the statute of limitations would, or should, have run
Now, for the most difficult process, I urge you to open your seminar book and mark pages 29-31. If you get nothing else from this article, please make sure you understand the process of filing the B-31. Above, we went through what a B-31 is, and the effect it can have, but in order to derive the benefits, you have to absolutely do this 100% correctly. As a service to you, I have actually included the three important pages from our seminar book and attached them under the Useful Links tab under the term “B-31". If you do not happen to have a copy of our seminar book, either bookmark or print those pages to make sure you are going through this process correctly. It literally goes step-by-step, so I will refrain from regurgitating the steps here.
In the event that even one of those steps is done incorrectly, it opens the door for the Commission to consider the B-31 null and void. Practically speaking, the Commission will do what it can to help the injured worker get medical treatment even where a valid statute of limitations defense has been secured, so perform all the necessary steps to avoid any arguable basis to reopen the claim.
This topic, like many others, can certainly be much more convoluted. If you have any questions regarding the B-31 and/or the process of filing same, please reach out to me by email or phone to discuss further. I have seen too many cases over the years where a B-31 was not properly filed and the claim was reopened, costing the insurance carrier tens of thousands of dollars in additional medical treatment and/or indemnity benefits which could have been avoided had the process been correctly completed.
P.S. As many of you know, on January 15, 2015, we lost Richie Edmonson in his fight against ALS. He began having symptoms in 2012 and in January, 2014, he was formally diagnosed. Richie was survived by his loving wife Lisa, as well as his beautiful daughters: Haden, Allyn and Anna Ross. Under the Useful Links tab, I have included a link to a page started by several friends and colleagues raising money for a scholarship in Richie’s honor. A goal of $25,000.00 has been set, and any donation you can make would be very much appreciated. If you are not able to give, please share this with as many people as possible so that the scholarship will live on in his honor.
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Attorney with Markow Walker in Ridgeland, MS