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The Kansas Court of Appeals held that a firefighter’s claim for workers compensation benefits six years after an accident was not barred because his employer paid for him to see a doctor for his ongoing pain, thereby reviving the statute of limitations for his claim.
In Schneider v. City of Lawrence, the appeals court on Friday reversed and remanded a workers compensation board’s decision that the firefighter’s comp claims for back surgery were not compensable because they were filed six and eight years after the workplace injuries that led to his back pain.
Paul Schneider worked for the fire department of the City of Lawrence, Kansas, and injured his back twice, once on Sept. 21, 2008, and again on Sept. 27, 2010.
On Jan. 28, 2016, he filed two applications for hearing, alleging that he sustained both low back and whole body injuries from the two work accidents. The city held that his benefit applications were untimely.
Mr. Schneider testified that his back pain became progressively worse after his 2010 injury and explained that by 2015 it was difficult for him to work and he began to discuss back surgery with his personal doctor. Although his personal health insurance paid for his doctor’s appointment, it denied his request for back surgery on the grounds that it stemmed from work-related injuries. He then contacted the city, which sent him to its doctor on Dec. 14, 2015, and paid for a subsequent appointment in January 2016. The doctor concluded that the 2008 and 2010 accidents were the cause of Mr. Schneider’s ongoing back pain.
The city argued that the because Mr. Schneider failed to file his application for benefits within three years of the accident or within two years of the city’s last payment, that his claims must be denied. However, Mr. Schneider argued that his doctor’s appointments in 2015 and early 2016 — which were paid for by the city — constituted compensation and therefore revived the statute of limitations.
An administrative law judge held in favor of the city and the board affirmed. Mr. Schneider appealed.
The appeals court reversed the decision. The court noted that under Kansas statutes, if an employer has never paid compensation, the statute of limitations begins to run from the worker’s date of accident. However, if any employer has paid compensation to the worker, the statute of limitations begins to run from the employer’s last payment of compensation.
The court found that the board and the administrative law judge “seemingly injected ambiguity” into the statutes, and stated that the judge’s interpretation of this statute “could only invite confusion.”
The appeals court found that the language of the statue was clear and unambiguous and that a worker’s time to file an application for hearing may be revived upon an employer’s payment of compensation after the statute of limitations has run.
Because Mr. Schneider received compensation in December 2015 and January 2016 due to his doctor’s appointments, the court found that his applications under the revived two-year statute of limitations were timely.
Therefore, the court reversed and remanded the case.
The City of Lawrence could not be reached for comment.
Lawmakers in Texas will consider a bill that would penalize payers more than two times the cost of a claim plus possible attorney’s fees if they delay benefits to first responders.