Leighton v. S.D. Warren Company, et al.

Background:
In this case, the Maine Supreme Court was asked to decide which party has the burden of proof regarding whether the employer had contemporaneous notice that payments made for a later injury related in part to a prior injury, thereby tolling the statute of limitations for the prior injury. This case was governed by former 39 M.R.S.A. §95, which requires a petition to be filed within two years after the date of injury or, if the employee is paid benefits pursuant to the Act, within ten years of the last payment. (The current version of this Section provides two and six year periods respectively.)

The employee suffered a work-related injury to his right hand on May 29, 1983. The last payment on this date of injury was made on November 18, 1991. The employee returned to work on April 6, 1987 and suffered another injury to his right hand on January 26, 2000. In 2002 the employee sought to restore benefits related to the 1983 injury, arguing that the employer had contemporaneous notice that payments made on the 2000 injury related to the 1983 date of injury as well, thereby tolling the statute of limitations. 

Court ruling: 
The Maine Supreme Court ruled that the employer/insurer bears the initial burden of proof on a statute of limitations defense (that the last payment was made more than ten years before the petition was filed). The burden is then on the employee to demonstrate that the employer had contemporaneous notice that payments made within the limitations period but after a subsequent injury related in part to the prior injury.

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