By: Amy Markham
Patricia Armstrong was working in a bakery on December 24, 2006 when a co-worker standing on ladder dropped a twenty-pound box of frozen pies striking Ms. Armstrong on her face and left shoulder. In her workers’ compensation claim she alleged injuries to her shoulder and neck and substantial treatment to her shoulder, including three surgeries. Armstrong’s employer accepted the left shoulder injury as compensable, and paid her benefits up until August of 2012.
With regard to Armstrong’s neck complaints, she reported them for the first time in March of 2007 subsequent to her initial shoulder surgery. She was evaluated by Dr. James Blankenship who noted a congenital Chiari I malformation with a rather large upper cervical syrinx. Armstrong’s employer controverted her neck complaints on the basis that they were related to a congenital defect and not a workplace injury.
On May 27, 2008, Armstrong filed a Form ARC with the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission. On the Form ARC, she listed the date of the injury as December 24, 2006 and gave a brief description of how she was injured. However, she did not give any description of what area of her body was injured. She indicated on the Form that she was seeking “initial” and “additional” benefits and checked all available boxes related to benefits sought.
A hearing was held on June 18, 2012 associated with Armstrong’s claim for benefits related to her neck injury. The administrative law judge denied her claim associated with her neck injury. Armstrong appealed, and the Commission affirmed the decision of the ALJ. The decision of the Commission was then affirmed by the Arkansas Court of Appeals in October 2013.
Armstrong filed another Form ARC in November 2014, in which she listed the date of injury as December 24, 2006. She described her injury as “I was handing a box to someone when it slipped from that person’s hands and fell on me injuring my left shoulder.” Again, she checked all “initial” and “additional” benefits. Her employer controverted the claim.
Armstrong sought treatment by Dr. Christopher Arnold for her left shoulder in August 2014, and a fourth surgery was performed in November 2014. Dr. Arnold opined that the need for the surgery was related to her prior work injury. Armstrong’s prior employer refused to pay for the medical treatment.
Arkansas Code Annotated §11-9-702(b) sets forth two specific time periods in which a claim must be brought or is barred: one year from the last payment of compensation or benefits OR two years from the date of injury, whichever is greater. Ultimately, the Arkansas Court of Appeals held that Armstrong failed to provide sufficient detail in the 2008 ARC to toll the statute of limitations because it did not specifically state that she sustained neck and left shoulder injuries. She stated no specific injury but checked all boxes available for benefits sought. The Court held that the generic filing was the same as if no filing had been made. Wal-Mart Assocs. v. Armstrong, 2017 Ark. App. 175
While the one-page Form ARC is not complex on its face for purposes of filing a claim for benefits in Arkansas, this holding serves as a reminder that details matter for purposes of tolling the statute of limitations for workers compensation benefits in Arkansas. Simply filing the form by a date certain is not sufficient. The ARC must describe with specificity the injury claimed. Failure to do so may allow for respondents to assert the affirmative defense of expiration of the statute of limitations and may be fatal to the claim for a claimant. It is a defense that is definitely worth a respondent considering when reviewing an ARC in preparation for defense of its case.
Amy Markham, Managing Partner of the Little Rock, Arkansas office, focuses on Workers’ Compensation, Liability (Automobile, Premises and Products) and Litigation (Construction, Insurance Defense and Property and Casualty).
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