Statute of Limitations
If you are injured in a Massachusetts work accident, it’s important to get a free legal consultation as soon as possible. Workers’ compensation claims may be difficult to prove if there is a delay. Critical evidence can be lost, damaged or even destroyed.
It’s also important because, in every single state, there are time limits in which actions have to be filed. These “statutes of limitations” are the time within which a claim or lawsuit has to be filed, or else it will not be recognized by the courts. Failure to abide by these rules can result in a loss of right of action.
The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, Boston workers’ compensation lawyers, know the Commonwealth time limits favor workers more than those in other states. For example, California workers have just one year from the date of an injury in which to file a claim. In Florida, it’s two years. Pennsylvania set a time limit of three years. Massachusetts workers, meanwhile, have four years under MGL c. 152 § 41.Why a Statute of Limitations?
Statutes of limitations exist in all kinds of cases in both the civil and criminal realm.
It’s a concept that dates back to ancient Roman law, and the principle is founded on the theory that claims grow stale with the passage of time. Evidence may be lost. Facts can become obscured through defective memories, deaths or the disappearance of witnesses. Legislators also wanted to protect defendants from fraudulent claims that exploited these evidentiary weaknesses.
These statutes of limitation are absolute. However, determination of when that “clock begins to tick” isn’t always straightforward. There have been many cases in which plaintiffs have successfully found ways to extend this deadline, and it helps that workers’ compensation law is in general construed in favor of the claimant.
While it may seem the statutes of limitations provide bright-line rules that would clearly halt workers from receiving workers’ compensation benefits, this is not always the case.
- Time limit may be extended for a lack of knowledge on claimant’s part with regard to the medical condition.
- Time limit may be extended for lack of claimant’s knowledge of causation (i.e., he or she did not realize the condition was work-related, stemming from a work-related hazard or duty).
- Time limit may be extended if an employer’s actions intentionally or unintentionally deceive claimant regarding his or her injury/ illness and the work-related conditions that may have caused it.
Of course, these are just general examples, and each case is decided on its own fact-specific basis. There are also situations – decidedly rarer – in which both parties agree to extend the prescribed time by agreement (such as a provision in a contract). Generally, though, the statute of limitations as set by the state is what will govern.
Although virtually every employer in Massachusetts is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance, that doesn’t mean the benefits will be easily attainable. Particularly if you believe you might be down to the wire or even passed this statute of limitations, it’s imperative that you consult with an attorney who has an extensive background in this area of law.Workers’ Compensation Statute of Limitations in Massachusetts
The law in Massachusetts provides that:
- Workers have four years from the date he or she first became aware of the causal relationship between his or her disability or injury and employment in which to file a claim.
- Spouses/ dependents have four years from the date of the worker’s death in which to file a claim.
In some cases, this is easy. For example, a construction worker falls off a roof on Jan. 1, 2016 and breaks his leg. That worker will have until Jan. 1, 2020 to file a workers’ compensation claim. (This is not to say he or she should wait anywhere near that long; after all, benefits can begin almost immediately after filing and there is usually nothing to gain by waiting).
However, if that same worker suffers from cancer as a result of inhaling acetylene fumes, it’s going to depend on when that worker got the cancer diagnosis and also when there was a discovery of the connection to the illness. So let’s say the worker inhaled the fumes sometime in 2011, but isn’t diagnosed with cancer until 2016. That worker would at least have until 2020 to file the claim. He or she may even have longer if the official diagnosis failed to indicate a connection between that cancer and exposure to toxic fumes.
This is known as “tolling” the statute of limitations. When the statute of limitations is tolled, the time limit is suspended until some specified event takes place. Simply being ignorant of the existence of a cause of action usually isn’t enough to toll the statute, particularly if the facts were knowable through due diligence. One will need to show he or she did not know and could not have known about either the disease or its work-related cause prior to the time asserted.
For more information about whether your work injury case may meet the criteria for tolling the statute of limitations, call our law firm.
Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.
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