Statute of Limitations
Under the LHWCA a claim must usually be filed within one year of your injury. If, however, your employer voluntarily begins payment of compensation and/or medical benefits, then the statute of limitations is extended. If your employer voluntarily pays compensation benefits within one year of your injury, you will then have a full year from the time that your employer terminates compensation benefits for you to file a claim for further compensation benefits. In other words, as long as your employer voluntarily pays compensation benefits to you within one year of your injury, you then do not need to file a formal claim until your employer terminates such benefits, and you then have one more year from such date to file a formal claim for compensation benefits.
If your employer voluntarily pays any medical benefits within one year of your injury, you then have a full three years time to file for additional medical benefits from the date that your employer last paid any type of medical benefit for you.
Even though the voluntary payment of compensation and medical benefits provides additional time for you to file a claim, it is always best to file a formal claim within one year of your injury. This will “protect the record” and make it clear that you are asserting a claim for benefits under the LHWCA. Filing a claim is extremely simple and you only need to complete a single piece of paper, an Employee’s Claim for Compensation, and file it with the United States Department of Labor. This is recommended even if your employer has completed an Employer’s First Report of Injury and you receive notification from the Department of Labor that a claim has been filed by your employer. In such situations, it is still recommended that you actually complete a Claim for Compensation with the Department of Labor within one year of your injury.
There are a few important exceptions to the general one year statute of limitations under the LHWCA. The most common exception is if your employer fails to timely complete an Employer’s First Report of Injury within one year of your accident. In order for the one year statute of limitations to begin to run under the LHWCA, your employer must complete a First Report of Injury form and file it with the United States Department of Labor following your accident. If your employer fails to do so, your employer cannot take advantage of the one year statute of limitations. Very often you will know that your employer has filed a First Report of Injury since the Department of Labor sends you a letter notifying you that a form has been filed by your employer regarding your accident.
Additionally, the one year statute of limitations does not run in regard to chronic or long term injuries until you have sufficient notice of the injury. Typically these are called latent injuries such as continuous, ongoing exposure to loud noises or asbestos which ultimately cause injury. The one year statute does not run from your point of first exposure to such latent injuries or diseases but rather runs from the time that you have sufficient knowledge of the injury.