29-Month Delay in Filing North Dakota Claim Bars Recovery

The Supreme Court of North Dakota recently affirmed an ALJ’s finding that the filing of a worker’s claim some 29 months after the work incident was not timely, and, therefore, no compensation could be awarded [Lechner v. North Dakota Workforce Safety & Ins, 2018 ND 270, 2018 N.D. LEXIS 270].

One-Year Time Period for Filing Claim

Reiterating that in North Dakota (as in the vast majority of states), the claims filing period begins on the first date a reasonable lay person, not learned in medicine, knew or should have known that he suffered a compensable work-related injury and has either lost wages or received medical treatment [see N.D. Cent. Code § 65-05-01], the Court noted that the record showed the worker had sought medical treatment shortly after the incident and had been encouraged to apply for worker's compensation benefits by a medical professional. There was no reasonable excuse for the long delay.

Background

On May 5, 2016, the worker, Nicholas Lechner, filed a claim with WSI for workers' compensation benefits. Lechner alleged he was injured at work on December 5, 2013. He claimed he was locked in a small room without a functioning heater, it was thirty degrees below zero outside, and he screamed and banged for help for hours before someone let him out of the room. He alleged he had a panic attack and was traumatized with severe anxiety, sleep disorders, and left unable to function normally.

Concussion?

Still later, likely because North Dakota does not allow recovery for purely mental injury claims, Lechner contended that during the confinement incident, he banged his head against the wall and that he was first diagnosed with a concussion and post-concussion syndrome in February 2017. Lechner contended that the concussion was a physical injury, the post-concussion syndrome was a mental injury caused by the physical injury, and that he did not know his symptoms were attributable to a concussion until he was diagnosed with the concussion by a medical professional.

Even a Lay Person Should Have Realized Work-Connectedness of Injury

The Supreme Court was unconvinced by Lechner’s argument. It acknowledged that some complex or insidious injuries require knowledge in medical matters because their causes and effects are not immediately apparent to the reasonable lay person, not learned in medicine. In some cases, the strict one-year limitations period would not apply. Here, however, the record indicated Lechner had immediately sought out medical care, that Lechner did not provide such medical professionals with any sort of history of hitting his head, and that he had even been encouraged to file a claim, but failed to do so. The Court added that if he had banged his head against the wall repeatedly, as was his later contention, he should have known that such an action might cause injury. The one-year limitation was appropriate in his case.

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