A Missouri truck driver cannot sue his employer for letting its workers compensation insurance policy lapse because he filed his claim too late, a federal appeals court has ruled.
Larry Brown was an independent owner-operator with Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based trucking company CRST Malone Inc., court records show. CRST bought workers comp insurance in 2001 through Associated Contract Truckmen Inc. to provide coverage for CRST's drivers, who had workers comp insurance premiums deducted from their paychecks.
Associated Contract worked with Dallas-based professional employer organization AMS Staff Leasing to procure the workers comp insurance, and AMS procured coverage through CNA Financial Corp., records show. AMS and CNA had a dispute that caused CNA to cancel CRST's worker comp policy in June 2002.
AMS did not notify Associated Contract about the cancellation, records show, and CRST continued to deduct workers comp premiums from its drivers' paychecks, including Mr. Brown's, although the money was not paid to an insurer.
Mr. Brown was injured in July 2002 while making a delivery and was permanently disabled, records show. He filed for workers comp in July 2003 — naming Associated Contract, AMS and CRST as his policy providers — and was awarded biweekly comp benefits of $750.
Associated Contract discontinued Mr. Brown's benefits in 2004, saying that his restrictions were not work-related, records show. While attempting to reinstate his benefits, Mr. Brown learned in February 2005 that there was no valid workers comp policy covering his injury at the time of his 2002 work accident.
Mr. Brown filed suit against CRST in Missouri state court in 2011, alleging that the company negligently failed to maintain workers comp insurance. The case was moved to U.S. District Court in St. Louis, which ruled that Mr. Brown's case was filed after a five-year statute of limitations in Missouri for such claims.
Mr. Brown appealed, arguing that the Missouri statute of limitations would not begin to run until his death, which is when his last workers comp payment would be due. He interpreted the statute of limitations based on the fact that he is permanently disabled and believed he was eligible for lifetime benefits.
He also argued that the statute of benefits could have begun in July 2008, when the Missouri Division of Workers' Compensation ruled that he was not covered under a valid workers comp policy, records show.
However, CRST argued that Mr. Brown's statute of limitations began running in 2005 when he was notified in writing by the Missouri Department of Insurance that CRST's workers comp policy had lapsed at the time of his accident, records show.
A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis unanimously upheld the lower court's ruling on Friday. The appeals court found that the Missouri statute of limitations began in 2005 once Mr. Brown received notice of CRST's lapsed policy from the state agency, and that his negligence claim was filed too late.
“There is no reason why Brown had to wait three additional years for the Missouri Division of Workers' Compensation to weigh in on the matter before filing suit,” the appeals court ruled. “During this time, Brown continued to accrue ascertainable damages because he was not receiving the workers compensation benefit payments that he believed he was entitled to receive from CRST and its network of insurance providers and brokers. Brown also was incurring damages in the form of attorneys' fees and other litigation expenses in pursuit of insurance that CRST had promised to provide.”