NJ Court Rules Two Year Statute Of Limitations Runs From Last Date Of Comp Payments And Cannot Be Relaxed


Many states have a provision that allows an employee to file a workers' compensation claim within two years from the last payment of workers' compensation benefits.  But is this statute absolute?

Kirsten Toth was injured on July 23, 2004 working for Princeton Health Care.  She struck her head on her car door while bending to retrieve her security badge.  She was hospitalized for eight days and Travelers Insurance Company paid for all medical treatment in the hospital as well as for six months of care with a neurosurgeon, neurologist and neuropsychiatrist.  The last date of treatment was January 28, 2005.

Petitioner returned to work at Princeton Health Care full-time on February 1, 2005.  She left the company to move to the State of Georgia in March 2007.  She filed a workers' compensation claim petition on November 6, 2008, more than three years after the last payment by Travelers.

Respondent moved to dismiss the claim petition, but petitioner argued that the statute should be tolled because she did in fact have treatment within two years of the filing date.  The problem was that the treatment was not authorized, nor known by Travelers.  The nature of the treatment was psychological.  Petitioner actually began treating on January 27, 2003, well before her work injury, for anxiety and depression.  Following the accident, she continued with her psychological treatment, and her psychologist focused on the consequences of the work accident.

Petitioner argued that it should not matter that the carrier and respondent did not approve the treatment; more importantly, she contended that the treatment she received was in fact for a work-related injury.  She relied on the case of Sheffield v. Schering Plough Corp., 146 N.J. 422 (1996) which held that where an employer directed a claimant to treat for a work-related injury through health insurance, those costs should be considered work-related costs for purposes of tolling the statute of limitations.

Respondent countered this argument by pointing out that in this case it did not try to direct petitioner to use health insurance.  It did not even know petitioner was treating for a work-related psychological problem in the first place.  The judge of compensation and the Appellate Division agreed with the employer.  “It is clear in this case, unlike in Sheffield, that Princeton Health Care did not ‘divert the employee from the remedies available under the Act.'” The court noted that petitioner had direct dealings with the Travelers' claims representative and a case nurse but never asked them for permission to treat, nor inform them that she was treating for a work-related condition.

Petitioner conceded that she did not ask permission to treat but she did inform two of her supervisors of her counseling in the winter of 2005.  The court said, “However, petitioner did not testify that she told the supervisors that she needed this counseling because of the injuries she suffered in the July 23, 2004 accident. Moreover, even if she had expressed that view to her supervisors, it would not have been within the scope of their responsibilities to advise petitioner that she could receive payment for the counseling from Princeton Health Care's workers' compensation carrier rather than her health care insurer.” 

This decision is clearly a correct application of the statute, N.J.S.A. 34:15-51, and any ruling otherwise would basically have nullified the two-year statute of limitations.  This case can be found at Toth v. Princeton Health Care, A-4847-10T2 (App. Div. February 10, 2012).

About the Author

John H. Geaney, a shareholder with Capehart Scatchard, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers' Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates. His blog may be read at http://www.njworkerscompblog.com.

Mr. Geaney is a member of the National Workers' Compensation Defense Network.

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