Payment of State Settlement Extends Time for Filing Occupational Disease Claim Under LHWCA

15
Apr

Payment of State Settlement Extends Time for Filing Occupational Disease Claim Under LHWCA

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In a case of first impression, the Benefits Review Board determined that payment of settlement proceeds under a state compensation act extends the time for filing a claim for occupational disease benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

The claimant worked as a welder in the 1970s for the employer, and then worked for several non-covered employers before he voluntarily retired.  In 2010, he filed a claim under the Connecticut workers’ compensation law.  The claimant settled this state claim with the employer on December 5, 2012, and received payment from the employer on the same day.  In 2013, the claimant filed his claim under the Longshore Act; in 2014, the employer filed a motion for summary decision alleging that the claim was not timely filed under Section 13 of the Act.  The ALJ denied the motion for summary decision and awarded the claimant permanent partial disability and medical benefits.

The employer’s motion for summary decision argued that the claim was untimely under Section 13(b)(2) of the Act, which provides a two-year statute of limitations for filing a claim from the time of awareness of an occupational disease, and another limitations period arising “within one year of the date of the last payment of compensation,” whichever is later.  It was uncontested that the claimant did not file his claim under the Longshore Act with two years of his awareness of his disease, but it was also uncontested that the payment of the state settlement proceeds was made within one year of his filing his Longshore claim.  Therefore, the decision as to whether the claim was timely hinged on whether the payment of a state compensation settlement was a “payment of compensation.”

This issue had never been decided under Section 13(b)(2) relating to occupational diseases.  However, several cases had determined that payment under a state compensation law constituted “compensation” under Section 13(a), which provides the one-year statute of limitations for non-occupational disease claims.  Section 13(a) instructs that the time for filing a claim is tolled for one-year after the last date on which compensation is paid, if “payment of compensation has been made without an award.”  As the Board noted, these cases generally hold that payments are “compensation” under the Act, for purposes of Section 13(a), when they are made voluntarily under the Longshore Act, or voluntarily paid under a state compensation law, or paid pursuant to an award under a state compensation law.  The Board noted that these cases generally rely upon the fact that the employer is entitled to a credit for payments made under a state compensation act, and that the claim does not become “stale” because of the employer’s awareness of the state claim.  The Board found no reason to differentiate the meaning of the term “compensation” in the two sections of Section 13, and determined that payment of a state compensation settlement constitutes the payment of “compensation” under Section 13(b)(2).  As a result, the Board affirmed the ALJ’s ruling that the claim was timely filed.

Robinson v. Electric Boat Corporation, BRB No. 16-0369 (2/15/17)

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