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New Jersey has a statute of limitations for occupational disease claims. In Rajpaul v. McDonald’s Corporation, A-4681-13T4 (App. Div. August 28, 2015), the proper application of the statute became the issue on appeal.
In this case, the petitioner worked as a maintenance person from August 1995 until November 2005 at McDonald’s. He began to have pain in his shoulders, wrists, and elbows in 1999. He sought medical treatment at Somerset Family Practice and was referred to Somerset Orthpedic Associates where he was diagnosed with bilateral bicipital tendonitis in 2001.
For the next four years petitioner continued to work at McDonald’s. In June 2005, he returned to Somerset Family Practice for treatment of his left shoulder. In November he left McDonald’s to work elsewhere. In June 2006, petitioner was diagnosed with a left shoulder rotator cuff tear and underwent surgery to repair the tear.
On December 14, 2006 petitioner filed a claim petition against McDonald’s alleging that occupational duties over 10 years caused his rotator cuff tear. McDonald’s moved to dismiss and argued that petitioner had failed to file within two years from when he knew the nature of his condition and thought that it was due to work. The Judge of Compensation granted the motion, and petitioner appealed.
On appeal, petitioner argued that the two-year statute of limitations should not have run in his case because he did not know he had a rotator cuff tear until 2006. While he did know he had shoulder problems as far back as 2001, he was never told he had a rotator cuff tear. Respondent argued that his condition was simply a progressive one due to tendonitis.
The Appellate Division sided with petitioner. “We agree with the compensation judge that petitioner knew of his prior diagnosis of tendonitis as early as 2001. Even so, we disagree with the compensation judge’s determination that petitioner had sufficient knowledge of a torn rotator cuff, based on previous treatment for tendonitis, to trigger the statute of limitations under N.J.S.A. 34:15-34.”
The Court in this case felt that the statute cannot run on a rotator cuff tear condition via a prior diagnosis of tendonitis because these are two completely different medical conditions. The case is helpful for practitioners in deciding when there is a valid statute of limitations defense. At a minimum, the medical condition at issue must have been diagnosed sometime in the past, and it must be the same medical condition that is presently at issue for the employer to win a statute of limitations defense.
John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.