Under the law of the State of California, complaints or claims against another person for damages, or criminal charges for breaking a law, must be brought to the attention of the proper court or administrative body within a specific period of time. This period of time within which an action must be started is called a statute of limitations. If the action isn’t begun in the time required by law, the statute of limitation is said to have run. Once the statute of limitations runs, you forever lose the right to bring your complaint or claim.
There is a good reason why the law imposes a statute of limitations. Every complaint or claim for damages and every criminal complaint accuses someone else of misconduct. If proven, that misconduct will cost someone money or their freedom. Because of the potential consequences involved, it is simply not fair to make someone answer to an accusation of misconduct years after the alleged misconduct took place. Evidence that the accused person may need to exonerate themselves may not be available to them years after a claimed event.
Basically, the law assumes that if you’ve been injured, you should be extremely motivated to begin the process of obtaining compensation for your injuries as soon as possible. If you’re not, then at some point the accused person’s need to have timely notice of your accusations so they can prepare a defense outweighs your need to obtain compensation.
Under California’s workers’ compensation laws, there are two steps that you, as an injured worker, must take in order to preserve your claim. The first is to inform your employer of the fact that you’ve been hurt within 30 days of the date of your injury, or within 30 days of the date you realized you were injured. If you fail to do so and if that failure prevents your employer from being able to adequately investigate the circumstances surrounding your injury, then you can be barred from obtaining compensation.
It should be noted that once an employer has been notified of a worker’s injury they must provide the worker with a claim form within 24 hours. The worker then fills out this form to the best of their knowledge and returns it to the employer. Once the employer receives the completed claim form, they have five days to file a workers’ compensation claim for the worker’s injuries with their compensation insurer.
Approximately two weeks later, the worker should receive notice from the employer’s insurer confirming that the workers’ compensation claim has indeed been filed. If it’s been several weeks or months since you have completed your claim form and returned it to your employer, and you still have not received notification from the insurance company, it is up to you, the worker, to investigate the status of your claim.
The second step is to file your workers’ compensation claim within one year of the date of your injury. If you have an acute injury due to a specific accident that occurred on a certain date, then the statute of limitations runs one year from that date. However, if you have a cumulative injury, one that occurred gradually because of repetitive work motions or exposure to toxins at work, then determining the statute of limitations can be a little trickier. In these cases, you have to file your workers’ compensation claim within one year of the day that you were last exposed to the conditions that caused your cumulative injury.
As in all legal matters, the existence of the statute of limitations means that you should file your workers’ compensation claim as soon as possible after you’ve been injured. In not doing so, you’ll not only risk losing the ability to obtain compensation for your injuries, but you’ll also weaken the strength of your claim. You see, once you know you’ve been injured, the longer that you wait to file your claim, the greater the chances are that your employer’s workers’ compensation insurer will attempt to use your delay to their advantage.
As we touched on above, your claim and the evidence that supports it is a little like a crime scene. The more time that goes by, the colder the trail becomes that establishes the facts surrounding your injuries.
The law assumes that most people who have suffered an on-the-job injury want to obtain compensation for that injury as quickly as possible. When there is a long delay on your part in filing your claim, the insurer can reasonably question why you’ve waited to obtain the compensation that is available to you under the law. That questioning can lead to suspicion about the legitimacy of your entire claim. That suspicion can also make obtaining compensation much more difficult than it would have been if you had filed your claim at the first possible opportunity.
Circumstances do exist that can cause exceptions to the usual one year statute of limitations that applies to most workers’ compensation claims in the State of California. In these situations, an injured worker is allowed to file a workers’ compensation claim even though more than one year has elapsed since the date of the worker’s injuries. When this happens, it is said that the statute of limitations has been tolled.
The workers’ compensation statue is commonly tolled in several different situations. First, if an employee isn’t aware that they’ve been injured, the statute of limitations is tolled until they become aware of the injury and that it is work-related. If an employee is under the age of eighteen when they are injured, the statute of limitations is tolled until the worker turns eighteen. Finally, if the employee reports their injury to the employer and is not provided a claim form and the employee does not understand what the workers’ compensation process is, the statute is tolled.