Earlier this month, an appellate court in Arkansas issued a written opinion highlighting the importance of ensuring that workers’ compensation claims are timely filed. In the case, Hendrix v. Alcoa, the court dismissed a widow’s wrongful death claim against her deceased husband’s former employer, based on the fact that a workers’ compensation claim was the sole remedy for her loss. However, since her husband had failed to filed his workers’ compensation claim in a timely manner, the widow will not receive any compensation for the loss of her husband.
The Facts of the Case
Mr. Hendrix worked for Alcoa for nearly 30 years, retiring in 1995. During his employment, Hendrix was exposed to asbestos. Seventeen years after his retirement, in 2012, he was diagnosed with an asbestos-related cancer. Later that year, he filed a workers’ compensation claim, seeking benefits for what he claimed to be a work-related diagnosis. However, a judge dismissed Hendrix’s claim because it was filed after the statute outlining the amount of time a worker had to file a case had expired. Specifically, in Arkansas, an injured worker has two years to file a claim from the date of last exposure. Hendrix did not appeal the decision.
In the following year, Hendrix died. His wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Alcoa, claiming that the company was responsible for her husband’s diagnosis and subsequent death.
The Court Dismisses the Case
In response to the claims against it, Alcoa asked the court to dismiss the case based on the “sole remedy” provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Essentially, the sole remedy provision prohibits a personal injury lawsuit from being filed against a company when a workers’ compensation claim is or was available to the plaintiff. Alcoa argued that since Hendrix would have been entitled to benefits had his application been filed in a timely manner, his wife was prevented from bringing the wrongful death lawsuit.
The court agreed with Alcoa, noting that the statute in question was a statute of repose, rather than a statute of limitations, since the relevant trigger date of the statute is the last date of exposure rather than the date on which the worker discovers his injury. The court continued to explain that a statute of repose acts to “cut off entirely” a worker’s claim because it creates a right for employers in knowing that they will not retroactively be held liable for something occurring beyond a certain date in the past. As a result, Hendrix’s failure to seek workers’ compensation benefits in a timely manner not only resulted in the denial of his workers’ compensation claim, but it also precluded the wrongful death lawsuit that was subsequently filed by his wife after his death.
The Importance of a Properly Filed Workers’ Compensation Claim
The unfortunate decision discussed above serves as a sobering example of how strict courts can be when applying the law, especially when it comes to the time in which a worker has to file a claim. It is critical that anyone who is injured on the job or believes that may have been exposed to a dangerous substance that could result in a future diagnosis consult with a dedicated workers’ compensation attorney immediately to discuss the rights they have and how to protect them.
Are You Seeking an Experienced Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured while on the job and is considering filing a claim for workers’ compensation, you should first discuss your injury and potential claim with a dedicated workers’ compensation attorney. The skilled workers’ advocates at J. Franklin Burns P.C. have decades of experience representing injured workers and their families, and we know how to navigate this complex area of the law. Call 404-920-4708 to set up a free consultation today.