What is the Statute of Limitations to File a Workers’ Compensation Claim in California?

California employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance for their employees in the unfortunate event that a workplace accident happens. If you have suffered a work-related injury, you are entitled to receive benefits for medical treatment and may be able to recover partial lost wages and receive vouchers for new job training. In order to qualify for benefits, you must file your claim within one year of your injury in accordance with the California workers’ compensation statute of limitations.

The California workers’ compensation statute of limitations and other workers’ compensation requirements are set in California’s Labor Code but this is a lengthy legal document and it can be difficult to understand. We will address the most commonly asked questions regarding California workers’ compensation statute of limitations in our FAQ section below.

California Workers’ Compensation Statute of Limitations FAQs 

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations refers to the maximum amount of time you have to bring your legal action after an incident has occurred. In California, if you suffer a work-related injury or illness, you must file your claim with the State Workers’ Compensation Board within the one-year statute of limitations after which you cannot bring a legal action. 

What Is the Purpose of a Statute of Limitations?

Statutes of limitation exist for a variety of reasons but their duration is typically a balancing act of the rights of the different parties involved and the overall needs of society. The time limit set is designed to allow enough time for a claim to be filed while trying to prevent fraud and indefinite exposure to liability for insurers. In the case of California workers’ compensation, the statute of limitations helps ensure that claims are filed in a timely manner so that all parties have a chance to gather information while evidence and witnesses are available.

When Is the Starting Date for the Statute of Limitations for California Workers’ Compensation Claims?
If you’ve suffered a work-related injury or illness, one of the most important details to know is when the clock starts running on the one-year statute of limitations. Your one-year time limit begins when you become aware of your work-related injury or illness as opposed to the date when the injury occurred.

Specific Injury

If you slipped, fell, and broke a bone, this would be an example of a specific injury. The statute of limitations for filing your claim would start as soon as you were aware of the injury, which would most likely be the date the injury occurred.

Cumulative Injury or Occupational Disease

Not all injuries or illnesses are the result of a single exposure or accident. California’s Labor Code describes cumulative trauma as a job-related injury or disease that is the result of repetitive workplace activities. 

If you were repeatedly exposed to chemicals over the course of several years but only became aware of it when your symptoms became more noticeable, then the statute of limitations would start running from the time when you realized the illness. The same applies to repetitive physical activities where you don’t suffer a specific incident like a broken bone, but instead could develop a chronic condition from repetitive occupational activities such as carpal tunnel syndrome or rotator cuff tendonitis.

If you are being denied workers’ compensation on the grounds that the statute of limitations has already passed, we recommend having an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer review the details of your claim as you may have options.

If My Claim Is Denied, Is There a Statute of Limitations or Time Requirement on My Appeal?

If your claim has been denied by a workers’ compensation judge, you have the right to appeal this by filing an Application for Adjudication of Claim with the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. You are allowed to ask the appeals board to reconsider the judge’s decision within 20 days of the ruling if you are unsatisfied with the outcome of your initial hearing.

Can I Bring Additional Claims if I Already Signed a Release but the Statute of Limitations Has Not Run Out?
If you have signed a release, you may be prevented from bringing any further claims depending on the specific language of the agreement. This situation can arise when workers quickly agree to a settlement with the insurance company, only to later discover that a serious condition has developed as a result of the initial injury and they now need additional medical treatment.

Settlements are typically reached in workers’ compensation claims when you have completed your medical treatment but are unable to recover fully to your pre-injury level. A doctor will evaluate you and determine a percentage of Permanent Disability which will be used to calculate how much compensation you qualify for.

Compromise and Release (C&R)

The most common type of settlement in a workers’ compensation claim is a C&R. This type of settlement will include an estimate of your future medical expenses, but you will be releasing your right to bring any future claims should you need additional medical treatment.

This type of release ends your workers’ compensation claim in regards to medical expenses and will prevent recovering additional compensation even if the statute of limitations has not expired. The California Division of Workers’ Compensation reviews these settlements and a judge will have to approve it, but be aware that these are neutral parties who are not specifically looking out for you. 

No one can force you to accept a C&R and if your case is complex or you are concerned about if it will be sufficient to cover your future medical needs, you should consult an experienced California workers’ compensation attorney who will be able to assist you in evaluating your needs. Because it is a single lump sum settlement, it is critical that you have an accurate assessment of your future needs. Having a lawyer advocating exclusively on your behalf can help improve the outcome of these negotiations and avoid unfortunate surprises in the future.

Stipulated Findings and Award (Stipulation)

Under a Stipulation settlement, you receive benefit payments every two weeks while reserving the right to coverage for future medical treatment arising from your injuries. The Stipulation settlement payment is an amount that is paid for the percentage of Permanent Disability you have been assigned. 

The important distinction between this and a C&R is that you do not forfeit your rights to additional medical expense coverage. You can also apply for additional medical care for up to five years from the date of your injury under this type of agreement if your condition deteriorates. The C&R may be a better option but it will depend on the unique circumstances of your case and having an experienced workers’ compensation attorney with a network of medical experts can help you make an informed choice.

Are There Any Other Time-Sensitive Elements of a Workers’ Compensation Claim?

Report the Injury to Your Employer and Complete Form DWC-1

You are required to report your injuries to your employer as soon as possible. Failure to notify your employer of the work-related injury or illness within 30 days of when you become aware of it may prevent or delay you from receiving benefits. 

It is important to notify your employer as soon as possible because you need to fill out paperwork to start your claim and qualify for coverage of your medical treatment up to $10,000 while the insurance company evaluates your claim. Any delay on your part can weaken your claim, delay your access to treatment and benefits, and create additional challenges.

Receive Medical Treatment and Evaluation 

You should receive any emergency medical treatment needed following your accident and you will need to be evaluated by a doctor within your employer or their insurance company’s network of providers. It is important to do this in a timely manner as any delay in receiving treatment or a medical evaluation can hurt your claim.

Can a Lawyer Help Me if I Have Missed The Statute of Limitations?

We encourage you to file your workers’ compensation claim as soon as you can within the one-year requirement as you may be barred from any recovery if you miss this deadline. If you are being told that the statute of limitations has expired and it is too late to file your claim, we may be able to help. At Morgan & Morgan, we have been protecting the rights of people who have been in accidents for over 30 years and our experienced California workers’ compensation attorneys are ready to help you with your claim.

Depending on the details of your injury or illness, we may be able to argue that the statute of limitations has not expired because it started running at a later date. Particularly in the case of a disease or a cumulative injury, you may have a stronger case to make this argument. You may not have been aware of it until a later point in time from when the insurance company is saying you should have been. 

If your claim has been denied but you feel that the date which they are saying the statute of limitations started running at is not the date when you became aware of the injury, then we encourage you to reach out for a free consultation. Our experienced California workers’ compensation attorneys may be able to find an exception to the missed deadline or show that you should receive an extension depending on the facts of your situation. We are also available to answer any additional questions you may about your rights under California’s workers’ compensation system.
 

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John Morgan