A recent unpublished opinion from the Court of Appeals of Virginia demonstrates how important it is to file a detailed workers compensation claim in Virginia that protects your right to future workers compensation benefits.
Nicholas Maldonado sustained injuries to his right wrist and shoulder by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment on January 8, 2009. He completed Part A of the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s Claim for Benefits form on January 29, 2009. Part A does not ask a claimant to specify which benefits – lifetime medical expenses, temporary total disability, permanent partial disability, etc – he or she is seeking. Maldonado filed a subsequent claim seeking the payment of unpaid medical bills related to his injury.
On June 19, 2009 the Commission entered a Medical Only Award. The award stated that “any claim for wage loss benefits must be filed within two years from the date of injury.”
Maldonado filed additional claims for benefits and wrote the Commission on several occasions between January 2010 and the summer of 2015. His correspondence did not seek permanent partial disability benefits for loss of use of a body part. On August 27, 2015 he filed a claim for benefits seeking permanent partial disability compensation.
A deputy commissioner denied Maldonado’s claim for permanent partial disability after a workers compensation hearing, finding that the claim was not timely filed. Maldonado appealed. But the full Commission affirmed the deputy commissioner, finding that, pursuant to Virginia Code Section 65.2-708(B), Maldonado had three years from the date of the accident to file a claim for permanent partial disability benefits and that his prior claims were not sufficient to constitute a claim because they “did not inform [employer] he was seeking permanent partial disability.” In other words, Maldonado had not satisfied the applicable statute of limitations for his change in condition application.
Maldonado appealed to the Court of Appeals.
In Maldonado v. Federal Express Corporation, Record No. 0027-17-4 (Va. Ct. App. August 15, 2017) (unpublished) the Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s denial of benefits.
The Court of Appeals pointed out that the Workers’ Compensation Act “is highly remedial” and should be “liberally construed to advance its purpose of compensating employees for accidental injuries resulting from the hazards of the employment.” But under Code Section 65.2-708(B) an employee’s right to permanent partial disability benefits is barred unless he files a claim for those benefits within 36 months from the date of the accident.
Maldonado argued that the Court’s holding in Cochran Indus. VA v. Meadows, 63 Va. App. 218, 225-26, 755 S.E.2d 489, 493 (2014), that completion of Part A of the benefits claim form was sufficient to constitute a claim for purposes of Code Section 65.2-601, should apply to his case. The Court, however, disagreed. It stated that Cochran does not control because Maldonado’s claim for permanent partial disability was not a request for continuation of the medical benefits he had received in 2009, but a new claim for which he sought new benefits.
As a workers compensation attorney representing injured employees, I disagree with the Court of Appeals decision in Maldonado. The Cochran holding protects employees and, in my opinion, should be extended to all situations.
Maldonado limits the holding in Cochran. Because of this, injured employees should be proactive when filing claims.
I recommend completing Part B of the benefits forms and checking the box for permanent partial disability benefits, even if it’s early in your case. In the “Other” box, you should state that you are reserving your right to permanent partial disability. This way you do not have to worry about the statute of limitations and can ask the Commission to docket your claim for permanent partial disability benefits when you reach maximum medical improvement and obtain an impairment rating.
Make sure that you consult with an attorney before entering into an award agreement or signing a stipulated order. Depending on the language used in the order, you may waive your right to future benefits – even if you filed a protective claim.