PAYING FULL WAGES MAY TOLL STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
Marvin Jackson v. Delphi Automotive Systems:
On January 8, 2010, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released this opinion wherein it considered the Statute of Limitations defense. At the trial court level, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment because the applicable 2 years had run by the time the plaintiff filed his verified lawsuit. In response, the plaintiff asserted that the limitations period was tolled because he received full wages despite the fact he was working in a limited capacity. The argument being that the difference between what he was receiving and what he was actually owed by is employer constituted indemnity benefits. In Alabama, the 2 year limitations period for accidental injuries begins on the date of the accident or on the date of the last indemnity payment. An amended complaint was also filed which attempted to relate subsequent problems back to the original injury. The trial judge granted summary judgment asserting that all counts were time barred.
On appeal, the Court noted that payment of full wages to an employee on restricted duty could be considered "payments of compensation" in certain situations. In order to prevail on that theory, the plaintiff would have the burden of proving at trial that (1) the employer was aware (or should have been aware) that such payments constituted indemnity payments, (2) the payments had the effect of recognizing the workers’ compensation claim, and (3) the employer paid for more than he received.
Although the plaintiff has the burden of proof at trial, the burden was on the employer at the summary judgment stage. The Court reversed the trial court because the employer did not meet that burden. In addition, the Court did not feel summary judgement was appropriate on the issue of whether or not the claims presented in the amended complaint related back to the date of the original accident.
My Two Cents:
If you have work available that meets an employee’s restrictions, make sure that you do not pay that employee more than what he should be receiving (more than what he would be receiving had the accident never happened). It might also be a good idea to have the employee sign an acknowledgment that he is receiving wages as opposed to indemnity benefits.