The 240 Week Bright Line For Death Benefit Claims
The case of Cathleen Brezensky (Widow) v. Lockheed Martin, 13 WCAB Rptr. 13, 328 (Writ denied) dealt with whether the statute of limitations for death benefits was tolled until a dependent knew that she had a cause of action for death benefits. The case focused on Labor Code section 5406(c) and the provision that no proceedings for death benefits may be commenced more than 240 weeks from the date of injury.
The decedent suffered an industrial injury on May 1, 2002 while working for Lockheed Martin and subsequently died as a result on August 31, 2009. The application for death benefits was filed in January 2010.
The employer denied death benefits contending that the claim was barred because it was brought more than 240 weeks after the date of industrial injury and thus untimely. The WCJ found that the death claim by the decedent’s widow was timely and that the statute of limitations was tolled until the claimant’s widow knew she had a cause of action for death benefits.
The court acknowledged that the date of injury referred to in Labor Code section 5406 may in fact depend on the claimant’s knowledge of the industrial injury causing death. However, if the date on which a claimant gains knowledge that the injured worker’s death was industrially caused is more than 240 weeks after the date of injury, such knowledge and when the knowledge obtained is irrelevant. In short, the court noted that if the death occurs more than 240 weeks from the date of injury, no claim can arise.
It was noted that the 240 week period may reflect a legislative judgement that allowing longer intervals between the injury and the death would create unacceptable difficulties in proving industrial causation as evidence grows stale and the possibilities of intervening causes increases.
In that regard, if you have a death claim you should examine as to whether the claim has been filed within 240 weeks of the date of injury. If it is not, claimant may be precluded from any right to death benefits.