Statute of Limitations Does Not Bar Amending a Specific Injury to a Cumulative Injury by Application of the Relation Back Doctrine
The date of a cumulative injury is determined under LC §5412. The code sets forth that a date of injury is set based on the date the employee had knowledge of, or should have reasonably known, that their disability was industrially caused.
If an employee files a claim for a specific injury within the one-year statute of limitations period under LC §5405, but it is later determined that the disability occurred due to cumulative trauma rather than a specific injury, the employee may amend the claim to substitute a CT claim for the specific injury claim.
A Board panel has recent clarified that a specific date of injury may be amended to a CT claim even when the doing so adds new defendants, as the amended application is deemed to “relate back” to the date of the filing of the original application, thus circumventing the statute of limitations.
In Ramirez v. Aerotek/ACE American Ins.; Staffing Network/ CIGA, et al., ADJ9682348 (AHM), Jan. 17, 2023, Decision After Reconsideration, the applicant alleged a specific August 2014 injury while employed by Staffing Network, insured by CIGA. Medical reports from September 2014 and November 2014, however, reflected that the applicant had been temporarily disabled due to a cumulative injury. The QME of record later confirmed in a report issued in November of 2015 that the nature of the injury was that of a cumulative trauma, and not a specific injury. In August 2016, two years after the filing of the original application, an amended application was filed changing the alleged injury to a CT ending August 2014.
CIGA joined defendant ACE American Ins. to the CT claim as a co-defendant. The newly joined defendant contended that the CT claim as barred by the statute of limitations on the grounds that amended application was not set on the same facts as the original application. In response, CIGA contended that the amended application was not barred under LC 5405 because the amended application “related back” to the date of the filing of the original application, and secondly contended that the amended applicant was not barred as it was also filed within one year of the last provision of benefits.
The trial court ruled in favor of ACE American. The WCJ took heavily into account the fact that the amended application resulted in the addition of a new defendant and determined that based on the addition of new parties the amended application was not “based on the same facts” as the original application. Following CIGA’s reconsideration petition, the Board Panel reversed the trial court’s finding. The Panel ruled that the applicant’s amended applicant sufficiently “related back” to the original application noting that, “substituting a claim for cumulative rather than specific injury does not constitute a new and different cause of action.” The Panel further concluded that the WCJ hand improperly weighed and the factor of fairness in applying the equitable doctrine of Laches, whereas the Panel found the issue at hand was deemed to be purely legal vis-a-vie the application of the “relation back doctrine.”