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Petitioner’s Claim Was Not Time Barred Because He Did Not Know the Precise Nature of His Medical Condition

By on September 2, 2015 in Uncategorized with 1 Comment

New Jersey has a statute of limitations for occupational disease claims.  In Rajpaul v. McDonald’s Corporation, A-4681-13T4 (App. Div. August 28, 2015), the proper application of the statute became the issue on appeal.

In this case, the petitioner worked as a maintenance person from August 1995 until November 2005 at McDonald’s.  He began to have pain in his shoulders, wrists, and elbows in 1999.  He sought medical treatment at Somerset Family Practice and was referred to Somerset Orthpedic Associates where he was diagnosed with bilateral bicipital tendonitis in 2001.

For the next four years petitioner continued to work at McDonald’s.  In June 2005, he returned to Somerset Family Practice for treatment of his left shoulder.  In November he left McDonald’s to work elsewhere.  In June 2006, petitioner was diagnosed with a left shoulder rotator cuff tear and underwent surgery to repair the tear.

On December 14, 2006 petitioner filed a claim petition against McDonald’s alleging that occupational duties over 10 years caused his rotator cuff tear.  McDonald’s moved to dismiss and argued that petitioner had failed to file within two years from when he knew the nature of his condition and thought that it was due to work.  The Judge of Compensation granted the motion, and petitioner appealed.

On appeal, petitioner argued that the two-year statute of limitations should not have run in his case because he did not know he had a rotator cuff tear until 2006.  While he did know he had shoulder problems as far back as 2001, he was never told he had a rotator cuff tear.  Respondent argued that his condition was simply a progressive one due to tendonitis.

The Appellate Division sided with petitioner.  “We agree with the compensation judge that petitioner knew of his prior diagnosis of tendonitis as early as 2001.  Even so, we disagree with the compensation judge’s determination that petitioner had sufficient knowledge of a torn rotator cuff, based on previous treatment for tendonitis, to trigger the statute of limitations under N.J.S.A. 34:15-34.”

The Court in this case felt that the statute cannot run on a rotator cuff tear condition via a prior diagnosis of tendonitis because these are two completely different medical conditions.  The case is helpful for practitioners in deciding when there is a valid statute of limitations defense.  At a minimum, the medical condition at issue must have been diagnosed sometime in the past, and it must be the same medical condition that is presently at issue for the employer to win a statute of limitations defense.

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, 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.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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