Workers’ Comp & Occupational Disease Statute of Limitations
If you get injured at work, the process of filing a workers’ compensation claim may be vaguely familiar to you. However, there is a similar condition that can arise from performing repeated job-related motions over a period of weeks, months or years, called occupational disease. Occupational disease differs from a workplace injury in that the onset of the disease cannot be backtracked to a specific incident or date of an accident; rather, it develops gradually as a direct result of performing some repetitive motion or being exposed to certain conditions, at your place of employment over an extended period.
Examples of an occupational disease can include carpal tunnel syndrome from typing at a computer, lung cancer from being exposed to dangerous chemicals or secondhand cigarette smoke, and arthritis from performing repetitive manual labor at a janitorial job. If you believe you have developed an occupational disease from a previous place of employment, it’s important to file your workers’ comp claim after being evaluated by a medical professional and receiving an official diagnosis and potential cause of your disease within the statute of limitations set forth by New Jersey labor laws.
Definition of Occupational Disease Statute of Limitations
New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation Law states that all occupational disease claims must be filed within two years of the plaintiff discovering the nature of their disease or disability, its relationship to their work conditions or job duties and that the disease is severe enough to be compensable by your employer. It is advised that you visit a medical professional related to your specific disease or disability, receive an official diagnosis, and then file your claim within the two-year period to solidify that you’ve received written proof that your occupational disease is in fact directly related to your work.
When filing a claim, the employee must notify their employer and employer’s insurance provider that they were diagnosed with a disease that they believe to be work-related and request a medical evaluation from an employee-selected healthcare provider. The employer can refuse the employee’s request for evaluation, and if this happens, the employee may need to pay for their own medical treatment while informing both the employer and insurance provider that they are seeking their own medical treatment.
If you decide to file an occupational disease claim against your employer, the burden of proof for any type of workplace negligence falls to your employer. If negligence is not the case, you’re tasked with the burden of proof when it comes to showing beyond a reasonable doubt that you have a disease that resulted heavily from the work you did during your time of employment under your employer and that this disease was caused by a particular set of skills, movements, or a certain workplace environment specific to your occupation or type of job performed.
Agreement of Compensation by Employers
Generally, once a workers’ compensation claim is filed in the State of New Jersey, an employer and employee will draft an agreement where the employer will give the filing employee some sort of financial compensation, in the form of either necessary medical treatment or lost wages due to absence from the place of employment on the condition of disability. If the employer and employee cannot come to an understanding, a decision will be made by an arbitration forum appointed by the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Division. Under this type of mutual agreement, a claimant has two years from the date of the last payment of compensation granted by their employer to file a workers’ compensation claim or two years after their employer’s failure to pay due to compensation.
Statute of Limitations for Filing an Occupational Disease Claim in NJ
The statute of limitations for filing an occupational illness or disease claim in New Jersey is defined as two years from the date of official diagnosis of the disease, or the date the plaintiff was made known of the nature of their illness and its relation to their job duties. The actual start date of the statute of limitations period can be difficult to determine because every claimant’s situation is vastly different. However, the statute is said to begin at the point the claimant understands the severity of their condition, which includes noticing and experiencing the most characteristic symptoms of their specific illness, and that medical treatment and disability resulting from their illness is eligible for compensation from their employer.
Take into consideration the case of Earl v. Johnson & Johnson (1999), where the claimant, Joan Earl, filed a workers’ compensation claim with her employer, Johnson & Johnson, after learning that her significantly reduced respiratory function over a period of four years was a direct result of her time of employment there. She worked in their file room for twenty hours a week, and the room contained such health and occupational hazards as poor air ventilation and drawers insulated with anhydrous gypsum powder, which is believed to cause respiratory irritation if inhaled.
Although she suffered several breathing attacks during her employment period dating back to 1989 which required hospitalization, she was not officially diagnosed with asthma and COPD until April 1993, the year she filed her claim. Johnson & Johnson argued that since Earl knew about her breathing and pulmonary problems in 1989, she should have filed her claim before 1991, the end of the two-year statute of limitations.
The court ruled in Earl’s favor, stating that she was not aware of the severity of her pulmonary and respiratory conditions until she underwent pulmonary function tests in 1993, which made her cognizant of her permanent disability. Even after she started experiencing these problems, she was still able to perform her job duties reasonably and only left the company in 1993 to accept Johnson & Johnson’s offer of early retirement. Therefore, the statute of limitations was still underway when she filed her claim, as she was not aware of the compensable and serious nature of her illness until 1993.
File Your Occupational Disease or Workers’ Comp Claim with Confidence
Although it’s not mandatory to recruit legal representation when filing your claim, it is strongly advised to hire a work injury lawyer who understands the complexities of the workers’ compensation process and can assist you with filing an occupational illness claim within the two-year statute of limitations set forth by the New Jersey Department of Labor. An experienced attorney can help you submit an appeal if your employer denies your claim or fails to provide necessary medical treatment and lost wages due to your work injury or occupational disease.
It’s not worth losing the medical and financial compensation you deserve for your employer’s negligence by filing your occupational illness claim after the statute of limitations expires. If you suspect you have an occupational disease that arose from specific duties or environments related to your job, you want to hire a workers’ comp lawyer who will listen to your concerns, help you file your claim or appeal in a timely fashion, and fight for your case. Goldberg & Wolf LLC has been helping employees earn compensation for workplace injuries in the Cherry Hill and surrounding areas since 1992, and it’s time we do the same for you. Contact us today by calling 865-651-1600 or visiting our office at 1949 Berlin Road in Cherry Hill, NJ.