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Reid v. Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority ("MARTA")
(07/16/2013, Georgia Court of Appeals)
Georgia Court of Appeals rules that claims seeking only alleged past due benefits or penalties are not subject to the two-year statute of limitations. Employee allowed to pursue claim for alleged past-due penalties on late-paid indemnity benefits eight years prior.
Mr. Reid was injured at work in October, 1999, and filed a claim for benefits with the State Board of Workers' Compensation. MARTA did not controvert the claim and began paying him temporary total disability ("TTD") benefits, and ultimately made a total of 32 payments. It was undisputed that 12 of those payments were untimely or late. The claimant returned to work on June 10, 2002, at which time the payment of TTD benefits was suspended.
In May, 2010, Mr. Reid's attorney sent a letter to MARTA requesting it pay the statutory penalty due on the 12 late TTD payments. MARTA declined, asserting that demand for payment was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The matter went to a hearing on the payment of statutory penalties. The administrative law judge denied Mr. Reid's request, finding the claim constituted a "change in condition" and was therefore barred under the two-year statute of limitations. The ALJ's ruling was affirmed by the appellate division of the State Board, which was also affirmed by the Fulton County Superior Court. The Georgia District Court of Appeals reversed the ruling that the two-year statute of limitations was applicable, as the employer/insurer had failed to pay the late payment penalties nearly ten years earlier. The Court found that since the employee was not seeking to recover statutory late payment penalties because of his physical or economic condition, but because the penalties constituted benefits due him under the law. Therefore, the two-year statute of limitations did not apply.
This opinion appears to contain two important issues. One is that the two-year statute of limitations may not apply in any case in which an employee is seeking to recover all benefits "due," rather than additional benefits due as a result of either the accident or a change in condition. This would arguably encompass late payment penalties, missed TTD checks, correct calculation of AWW or TTD rate, even if a substantial period of time (in this case, ten years) had passed since the last payment. Whether or not this decision allows for the resurrection of any "unsettled" or "unresolved" claim based upon the failure of the employee to receive the benefits or penalties is not clear. It should also be noted that Mr. Reid's initial indemnity claim with the State Board remained pending and was not closed. In the future, such claims should proceed to hearing, or be dismissed to minimize the potential for extremely old claims being reasserted.
The other interesting issue is whether or not payment or an award of the late payment penalties somehow resurrects the two-year statute of limitations for an additional "change in condition" claim.
In reaching its conclusion, the Appellate Court indicated that under the statute's current language, an employer is precluded from asserting the statute of limitations as a defense to any subsequent attempt by an employee to recover payment of compensation which has accrued and owed him as a matter of law but which was wrongfully withheld by the employer. The Court also noted that applying the statute could lead to some results which may be considered absurd. However, that absurdity needed to be addressed by the Legislature, rather than by the Courts.
At this point, it should be assumed an effort will be made to get the Supreme Court of Georgia to take this case for review. If it is presented to the Supreme Court for consideration, the ruling could have far-reaching effects on the system here in Georgia.