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When Is It Too Late to File for Workers’ Compensation?

If you are injured on the job, it is important to promptly notify your employer and, if necessary, apply for workers’ compensation benefits. Under Tennessee law, a workers’ compensation claim is barred unless it is brought within one year of “the accident resulting in the injury.” However, there are cases where an employee does not immediately discover the nature or full extend of his or her injury. As such, the Tennessee courts have repeatedly held that the one-year statute of limitations “is suspended until by reasonable care and diligence it is discoverable and apparent that an injury compensable under the workmen’s compensation law has been sustained.”

County Employee Who Required Surgery 10 Years After Injury Entitled to Benefits

For example, the Special Workers’ Compensation Panel of the Tennessee Supreme Court recently upheld an award of benefits to an employee who was injured in 2001 but suffered a relapse of symptoms that required surgery more than 10 years later. The court rejected the employer’s argument that the employee’s claim was barred because it came more than one year after the initial injury.

The employee worked as an officer in the Knox County sheriff’s office. In April 2001, he suffered a herniated disc in his back while on duty. The employee promptly notified his employer, Knox County, which provided treatment under workers’ compensation. The employee received steroid injections to treat his pain, and he returned to work without restriction.

But in 2011, the employee’s back pain returned. After a new round of steroid injections failed to relieve the pain, an orthopedic physician recommended back surgery. A second physician confirmed the diagnosis and the employee subsequently notified Knox County that “surgery was required as a result of his 2001 back injury.”

The employee was unable to work for six weeks following surgery. When he did return to work, his duties were restricted on the advice of another physician. These restrictions left the employee unable to perform many of his prior duties as a lieutenant in the sheriff’s office. Despite this, Knox County refused to pay any further workers’ compensation, claiming the employee was barred from filing any claim after 2002—one year after the county stopped paying benefits following the initial injury.

The Tennessee courts disagreed. The Supreme Court, upholding an earlier trial court decision, said the employee “had no idea that the injury that he sustained would be permanent and in fact … he had reason to believe that his injury had resolved as of July 2001.” In other words, the employee did not “discover” his partial permanent disability until 10 years later, in 2011, so that is when the one-year statute of limitations began to run. The court said the employee was therefore entitled to “temporary total disability benefits for the six-week period” following his surgery, and permanent benefits thereafter based on a 30 percent total disability rating.

Get Help from a Knoxville Personal Injury Lawyer

This case illustrates the importance of working with an experienced Knoxville workers’ compensation attorney. Employers will not hesitate to use every resource at their disposal to deny a claim, which is why you need someone who will fight for your rights. Contact the offices of Fox & Farley, Attorneys at Law, if you need to speak with someone right away.

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