Glenda Wilson v. Bath Iron Works

Background:
While at work for BIW, Wilson suffered a work-related gradual injury (which she reported) to her left foot with a date of injury of July 1, 2000. For nearly 4 years, Wilson missed no time from work and although she received treatment, BIW did not pay any medical benefits related to the injury. Because there was no lost time, BIW was not obligated to (and did not) file a First Report of Injury with the Workers’ Compensation Board. Wilson began missing time from work in March 2004. More than two years after her injury, Wilson filed petitions under the Workers’ Compensation Act seeking compensation for lost time along with payment of medical bills related to treatment of her feet. BIW filed a First Report of Injury on May 13, 2004 pursuant to 39-A M.R.S.A. §303 which requires that an injury be reported to the Board if it has caused the employee to lose a day’s work.

Because no benefits had been paid and because the petitions were filed more than 2 years after the date of injury, BIW asserted statute of limitations as a defense under 39-A M.R.S.A. §306(1). That Section provides: “a petition brought under this Act is barred unless filed within 2 years after the date of injury or the date the employee’s employer files a first report of injury as required in section 303, whichever is later.”

The Hearing Officer ultimately determined that Wilson’s claim was not barred by the statute of limitations. Applying the plain language of Section 306, the Hearing Officer determined that the limitations period did not begin to run until BIW filed its First Report in May of 2004. BIW appealed.

Court ruling:

The Law Court upheld the Hearing Officer’s decision. The Court agreed that pursuant to the plain meaning of Section 306(1), the statute of limitations expires 2 years after the date of injury or 2 years after the date the employer files the First Report of Injury, whichever is later.

BIW argued that the Hearing Officer’s interpretation would lead to absurd and illogical results by indefinitely tolling the statute of limitations in cases in which an employer is not required to file a First Report of Injury. BIW also argued that filing a First Report of Injury should toll the statute of limitations only when the employer is obligated to file the report within 2 years of the date of injury, and filing a First Report of Injury after the statute of limitations has expired should not revive the claim. The Law Court could find nothing in the statute or its legislative history to support these arguments and upheld the Hearing Officer’s decision.

* To avoid this situation, the better practice is to file a First Report of Injury with the Board on medical-only claims. We have learned from the Board that medical-only First Reports will be accepted. A Notice of Controversy does not need to be filed unless treatment is being controverted or lost time becomes an issue.

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