The claimant's request to modify her permanent partial disability award under the Longshore Harbor and Worker's Compensation Act (LHWCA) was ruled untimely since she waited several years after her initial compensation award. See Wheeler v. Newprot News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 2889 (4th Cir. Feb. 15, 2011).
The claimant was injured in 1992. She was awarded permanent partial disability compensation, as well as a period of temporary total disability compensation. She later sought continuing permanent total disability compensation. After the employer contested, the administrative law judge issued an order denying the claim for permanent total disability compensation. The Benefits Review Board affirmed on September 12, 2003. No further appeal was taken.
After the 2003 decision, the employer continued to authorize and pay for regular medical treatment for the claimant's knees. On September 13, 2007, claimant submitted a request for modification of her permanent partial disability award under Section 22 of the LHWCA, again seeking total disability benefits. The ALJ rejected the request as untimely because it was not filed within one year "after the date of the last payment of some compensation" or "after the rejection of a claim," as required in Section 22. Although the claim was submitted within one year of the employer's last payment of medical benefits, it was filed more than four years after the Board's last order in 2003 denying the claim for permanent total disability compensation.
Section 22 allowed the Director to review a compensation case and issue a new compensation order terminating continuing, reinstating, increasing or decreasing the compensation "at any time prior to one year after the date of the last payment of compensation." The issue before the Fourth Circuit was the meaning of the term "compensation." If "compensation" included the payment of medical benefits, then the claim for modification was arguably timely.
The court first noted that the plain language of Section 22 did not clearly indicate that "compensation" either included or excluded medical payments. Therefore, the meaning of "compensation" in Section 22 was ambiguous.
The legislative history, however, showed that Congress's inclusion of the one-year limitations period was not accidental. While Section 22 was intended to broaden the grounds on which an award could be modified, it also strictly limited the period in which a request to modify could be filed. Therefore, the Section 22 limitation period could not be construed to limit its force. Furthermore, the interpretation urged by the claimant would mean the statute of limitations could be extended indefinitely by seeking medical treatment related to a covered injury and getting paid, thereby triggering anew the one-year period.
Consequently, the court concluded that interpreting "payment of compensation" in Section 22 to exclude an employer's payment of medical benefits was most harmonious with the purpose of the statute's limitations period and the Act as a whole.