Worker’s Compensation Statute of Limitations Change: What has changed, and why it matters to your case

Casey Shorts

On March 2, 2016, many changes to Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation law went into effect. One very significant change was that the statute of limitations for a traumatic work injury was reduced from 12 years to 6 years. If not acted upon, this simple change in the law could be devastating to your claim. So, what does the change mean and how does it work? Let’s look at some examples.

Sarah is a nurse, who works at St. Paul’s Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On March 30, 2016, Sarah was urgently walking through the hospital hallways to check on a patient when she suddenly slipped on a patch of water. When Sarah slipped, she fell directly on her right arm and unknowingly fractured her right wrist. That day, she reported the injury to her employer and completed an injury report. Believing she simply sprained her wrist, Sarah continued to work and didn’t seek immediate medical treatment.

One month passes and Sarah’s pain becomes so great she finally decides to seek medical treatment for her wrist. Sarah mistakenly does not explain how the injury happened to her physician; she simply explains that she fell on her wrist and that she is in an immense amount of pain. X-rays are done on Sarah’s wrist, and it is discovered she has a displaced fracture in her right wrist and that she needs surgery to repair it. Sarah undergoes surgery and misses one month of work. She then returns to work on a part-time basis, working a 5 hour shift instead of her typical 10 hour shift. For the next two months Sarah works part-time shifts and attends physical therapy appointments until she has for the most part healed. At this point, Sarah’s physician states that she may need ongoing pain treatment, but that she likely has reached an “end of healing”.

Despite reaching an “end of healing” Sarah’s right wrist continues to hurt and the strength she had prior to her work injury never returned. Sarah continues to treat for two more months when she tells her treating physician that she broke her right wrist when she slipped and fell at work. Sarah’s physician then starts sending bills for Sarah’s treatment to St. Paul’s worker’s compensation insurance carrier. One month later, the worker’s compensation insurance carrier rejects Sarah’s bills because they do not believe that Sarah’s continuing treatment for her right wrist was caused by her fall at work. Unfamiliar with the worker’s compensation system, Sarah accepts the denial of her worker’s compensations claim. Continuing to have problems with her right wrist, Sarah sees an additional orthopedic surgeon and it is discovered that she needs another surgery and further pain management treatment for her right wrist. Sarah agrees to undergo further surgery and pain treatments. Sarah has mounting debt because she has missed a significant amount of work, and has paid for much of her medical treatment out of her own pocket.

Five years have passed since Sarah was rejected by the Worker’s compensation insurance carrier, when she is discussing with her co-worker Erin how she injured her right wrist on March 30, 2016, and has still not fully paid off her medical bills. Erin, familiar with the worker’s compensation system, tells Sarah to contact The Previant Law Firm to see if she can contest her worker’s compensation denial.

Sarah calls The Previant Law Firm and is informed that despite being injured 5½ years ago, she still has a valid worker’s compensation claim. Not only does Sarah have a valid worker’s compensation claim, but because of her lost wages and permanent disability to her right wrist, she has a claim that may be worth in excess of $30,000. Also, Sarah is entitled to be repaid for out-of-pocket medical expenses, medical travel expenses, and to have any remaining unpaid medical expenses all paid by the worker’s compensation insurance carrier. The Previant Law Firm promptly files a hearing application to contest the 5½ year old work injury, and successfully obtains compensation for Sarah’s lost wages, permanent disability, out-of-pocket and mounting medical expenses.

Now, suppose Sarah had that same discussion with Erin 6½ years after her work injury. Sarah calls The Previant Law Firm, and is told that because it has been longer than 6 years since her work-related injury occurred, she is unable to contest the worker’s compensation insurance carrier’s denial because of the statute of limitations. In this scenario, Sarah is unable to bring a valid claim simply because more than 6 years have passed. Sarah has missed her opportunity to recoup her lost wages, out-of-pocket medical costs, medical mileage, and compensation for her permanent disability to her right wrist.

Let’s change the facts in another way, suppose Sarah was injured a year prior on March 30, 2015. Sarah is denied by the worker’s compensation insurer 6 months after her injury. Unlike the first scenario, Sarah still has 12 years from the date of her injury to contest her denial. This is because the change in law did not take effect until March 2, 2016. Any work-related traumatic injury that occurred before March 2, 2016 still has a statute of limitations of 12 years. The change in law only effects traumatic injury claims after March 2, 2016.

Even though traumatic injuries saw a significant change in the statute of limitations, the statute of limitations for repetitive use/occupational exposure claims remains at 12 years from the date of injury.

Ultimately, if you have been injured at work and have questions regarding the worker’s compensation system, please contact The Previant Law Firm as soon as possible. Time is ticking, and it would be a shame if your valid claim was denied simply because you waited too long to contest your denial. Call (414) 240-1185, or contact us online.