Massachusetts Court: No Workers’ Comp for Custodian’s 1999 Injury

December 23, 2009

A church custodian who was injured in a ladder fall, but waited nearly five years to file a workers’ comp claim is barred from collecting benefits, a Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled.

The employee in this case, James Sullivan, was injured while descending a ladder in Dec. 1999 – an injury that ultimately led to a total knee replacement in July 2003. Throughout that period, however, Sullivan continued to work at the church, although occasionally requiring a wheelchair.

Massachusetts law specifies that claims should be filed as soon as possible, although it does provide a four-year window. Sullivan did not begin inquiring about a workers’ comp claim until July 2004, and did not file a claim until Dec. 2004 – approximately one year after the statute of limitations had run out.

Sullivan had appealed the decision of an administrative judge within the Division of Industrial Accidents, which found that the claim was barred because the medical records contained no documentation suggesting a work-related injury.

Sullivan argued that, although he was injured in Dec. 1999, he was not “disabled” until July 2004, when he could no longer work and was laid off.

Lawyers for the church also appealed that decision, arguing that the claim should have been barred regardless, given the four-year statute of limitations.

The Appeals Court, in reviewing medical records in the case, found that the administrative judge did err in finding there was no evidence of a work-related injury, but sided again with church and agreed the statute of limitations had in fact expired.

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