WC Risk Alert: Two Year Limit on Occupational Disease Claims
Ervin Rainey worked as an automotive mechanic assistant for the City of Charlotte, where he had worked for 18 years. This job required frequent, strenuous use of both his arms and shoulders. On May 9, 2000, Mr. Rainey’s doctor advised him that he had severe osteoarthritis in the right shoulder and that he would likely need a right total shoulder arthroplasty in the near future. Mr. Rainey testified that his doctor advised that he would need replacements done in both his shoulders, even though the medical record only mentioned the right shoulder. Mr. Rainey declined surgery and continued to work for the City until December 1, 2009. Mr. Rainey did not file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits until November 29, 2012 after he was advised he had end-stage arthritis in his left shoulder and required surgery. He claimed benefits for a left shoulder occupational disease as a result of his work for the City. The Deputy Commissioner dismissed Mr. Rainey’s claim for lack of jurisdiction because he had not filed his claim within two years after being advised by his doctor that he had severe shoulder osteoarthritis. Instead, 12 years had passed from the time Mr. Rainey was advised he would need bilateral shoulder replacements and when he filed his claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Likewise, more than two years had passed from the time Mr. Rainey stopped working and when he filed his claim. The Full Commission agreed and concluded that the two-year limit for filing an occupational disease had run.
In Rainey v. City of Charlotte, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Commission and concluded that Mr. Rainey did not file his occupational disease claim within two years from the date he was advised by his doctor of his osteoarthritic disease in both shoulders and the need for replacement surgeries. The Court held that Mr. Rainey became disabled on the date of his retirement on December 1, 2009 and did not file his claim alleging an occupational disease until November 5, 2012, which was past the two-year limit.
Risk Handling Hints: The decision in Rainey provides a reminder that the Court can and will strictly enforce the two-year limit on filing claims, including occupational disease claims. If employers or carriers have a statute of limitation defense, this defense should be identified early and analyzed as a potential basis for denying the claim.