This state requires employees to file for workers’ comp benefits within one year from when they knew or should have known an injury resulted from occupational disease. When exactly does that clock start ticking?
William Morrish worked for Broadwater Ford in Montana as a mechanic. Morrish had a long history of low-back pain and sciatica. He first received treatment for back pain in 2005. As it worsened, he missed work.
Documentation by a physician noted in 2006 that “physically demanding lifelong work had left him with significant pain in many joints.”
Between 2005 and 2012, Morrish saw his chiropractor from five to 12 times per year. Morrish attributed his back pain to the awkward positions he had to get into while working, and heavy lifting.
In 2012, Morrish and his chiropractor began having discussions about his ability to continue working as a mechanic due to his back problems. They discussed that working on cement and getting into awkward positions were contributing factors to his back problems. The chiropractor told Morrish that working as a mechanic was causing him to suffer degenerative changes in his lower back.
On April 20, 2015, the chiropractor assessed Morrish as possibly having degenerative joint disease or degenerative disc disease and ordered spine x-rays.
A radiologist diagnosed degenerative disc disease after x-rays were taken on April 16, 2015.
On July 31, 2016, Morrish was using a saw at home when he bent over and felt immediate, acute and debilitating pain in his right lower back. The pain was more severe than he’d ever had.
Morrish never returned to work after that. He saw his general practitioner on Aug. 8, 2016, who told him the incident at home was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” She diagnosed Morrish with low-back pain and radiculopathy.
On Aug. 10, 2016, he filed a first report of occupational injury with his employer. The employer’s workers’ comp insurer denied the claim.
The reason for the denial: Morrish didn’t file his claim for more than a year after his chiropractor diagnosed him with degenerative disc disease.
Morrish appealed, arguing he could only have known his degenerative disc disease was caused by his work when his doctor told him.
His employer said the clock started ticking in April 2015 when his chiropractor attributed his lower-back pain to work.
The Montana Workers’ Compensation Court (WCC) noted that the state supreme court had ruled in a previous case that the statute of limitations begins running when a medical professional tells an employee they have an occupational disease.
The WCC said in Morrish’s case, that was on April 20, 2015, when his chiropractor informed him of his specific diagnosis of degenerative disc disease. Since he filed for comp in August 2016, his claim was too late.
Morrish’s workers’ comp claim was denied.
(William Morrish v. Amtrust Ins. Co. of Kansas, Montana Workers’ Compensation Court, No. 2017-3955, 5/23/2018)