Deadlines in workers’ compensation claims can be very strict, and states often provide few exceptions. In addition to the deadline for filing a claim, an injured worker may need to meet a deadline for reporting the injury. Each state imposes its own set of deadlines. If you research the law but are still unsure about which deadlines may apply to your situation, you should not hesitate to ask an attorney.
An injured worker should not wait to see if their injury becomes worse before reporting it. A claim can always be closed if the injury improves on its own.
One key point to bear in mind is that you should take action as soon as possible if you are dealing with a workplace injury or illness. You should not assume that your injury will improve by itself or that you can deal with it if it seems minor initially. Sometimes conditions become worse over time or are not thoroughly understood when first diagnosed. Waiting to report the injury or file the claim could mean missing a required deadline or triggering the suspicions of an insurer about whether the claim has merit. If you file a claim but do not eventually need benefits, you will not incur any penalty.
You probably will need to inform your employer that you were injured on the job after you suffer an accident or are diagnosed with an occupational illness. States often provide about 30 days to report the injury or illness. However, some states may provide as little as 10 days. Still other states do not provide a certain number of days but require an employee to report the injury as soon as possible.
Sometimes an employee may not report an injury because their employer already knows about it. While you should always report an injury formally, some states have exceptions to the reporting requirement in this situation.
Employers in some states may handle the claims process on behalf of the employee, but employees in other states will need to handle the process independently. The deadline for filing a workers’ compensation claim tends to be longer than the deadline for reporting the injury. It often extends for one to three years after the injury, or it may last even longer. If you received temporary medical benefits through your employer for the same condition, the clock for filing a claim may not start running until you stop receiving those benefits.
For certain especially serious injuries or illnesses, the time period may be defined differently. If you were in a coma following an accident, for example, or if you needed to be quarantined because of a contagious illness, the clock might not start running until you emerged from the coma or the quarantine. An exception also might apply if you needed significant emergency treatment.
Employees of the federal government have a three-year deadline for filing a claim. A worker still may be able to receive benefits if they file outside this period, as long as they notified the employer in writing within 30 days of the injury.
Filing Deadlines for Illnesses
There may be different deadlines for conditions or illnesses that develop over time, or for certain serious injuries.
Many diseases are not diagnosed right away, and their cause may not be discovered for even longer. If your workers’ compensation claim is based on an occupational illness or an injury that developed over time, the deadline may be different than if you are filing after a specific accident. The time period may be based on your last exposure to the source of the harm, or it may be based on the time that you discovered or should have discovered that your harm resulted from your job. Other states provide a fixed but longer time limit for claims based on occupational diseases.
Some workers close a claim based on a certain condition, only to find that they get worse afterward. You may be able to reopen your claim and revive your right to benefits. However, this requires acting within a certain time period, which may be about three years.
Additional deadlines apply to submitting your medical bills to get reimbursement. You should tell your doctor that workers’ compensation is covering your costs so that they can bill the insurer as needed.