Spring is finally here in Maine. After a long and snowy winter, many are ready to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Employers too are welcoming the season. Many are organizing company athletic teams and sporting events, in sports ranging from softball and golf to ultimate frisbee.
Some employers worry that by holding sporting events, they could be exposing themselves to liability under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Fortunately, that is not necessarily the case. The Workers’ Compensation Act specifically excludes voluntary participants in employer-sponsored athletic events from the definition of “employee.” That means that employers can organize voluntary sporting events without excessive worry about risking a costly workers’ compensation claim.
So, from all of us here at Tucker Law Group, play ball!
Considering how common it is for employees to work from home offices and check work phones at home, the Sullwold decision could signal the start of a troubling trend for Maine employers.
Recently the Maine Law Court upheld an award of death benefits to the estate of a Salvation Army portfolio manager who died from a heart attack while walking on a treadmill in his home office. He was found dead on a work day near a running treadmill, with a TV tuned to a financial news channel and his work-issued smartphone nearby. Continue reading
In the recent case Estate of Ralph Zeitman v. WW Osborne, a widow whose petition for death benefits against five employers was dismissed on statute of limitations grounds prevailed on appeal to the Appellate Division of the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board. The widow, Ms. Zeitman, filed her petitions against the employers twelve years after the death of her husband. The employers filed a joint motion to dismiss, raising the two-year statute of limitations period on death claims. Because he was asked to decide the issue on a motion, rather than after a hearing, the hearing officer made every inference in favor of Ms. Zeitman, including assuming that she was operating under a mistake of fact as to the reason of Mr. Zeitman’s death until shortly prior to the filing of the petitions. Despite the assumption of a mistake of fact, the hearing officer found that twelve years was not a “reasonable time” within which to file petitions and granted the motion to dismiss.
The Appellate Division reversed, finding that, in the event of a mistake of fact as to the cause of death, the two year statute of limitations did not begin to run until the widow’s mistake of fact was cured. The case was remanded to the hearing officer for further proceedings consistent with the decision.
This case provides employers and insurers with some additional clarity regarding the mistake of fact exception to the statute of limitations defense. It is now clear that the limitations period does not begin to run until the mistake of fact is cured, effectively entitling the claimant to the full limitations period after she becomes aware that she has a viable claim.
DID YOU KNOW…
IF YOU ARE DISCONTINUING BENEFITS IN A MAINE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION CASE DUE TO THE EXPIRATION OF THE 520 WEEK CAP YOU MUST:
File a 21 day discontinuance and provide the employee the following information at least 21 days in advance of the date benefits are due to expire :
If you are experiencing extreme financial hardship due to inability to return to gainful employment, you may be eligible for an extension of your weekly benefits. To request such an extension, you must file a Petition for Extension of Benefits within 30 calendar days of the date that benefits expire, or, in cases where the expiration date is contested, within 30 calendar days of a final decree as to the expiration date.
Failure to send this required notice will automatically extend the employee’s entitlement to lost time benefits for the period that the notice was not sent. Maine WCB Rules Ch. 2 §2.
Whether this notice must be provided when a 21 day discontinuance is not available because you are paying per Order or Decree of the Board is not clear-so we say, WHEN IN DOUBT, WRITE IT OUT!!!
Contact the attorneys at Tucker Law Group for more information on this and other topics in Maine Workers’ Compensation law.
One of the central features of Maine’s workers’ compensation statute is its tort immunity or “exclusive remedy” provision. This provision represents a trade-off: In exchange for compensating work injuries regardless of employee fault, employers are exempt from civil suits involving injury or death arising out of and in the course of employment – and the high defense costs, high damage awards, and pain and suffering damages such suits can entail. This “grand bargain” has been a defining feature of Maine’s workers’ compensation system since its inception nearly 100 years ago.
However, in other jurisdictions with similar provisions, this most basic feature of workers’ compensation law is now under fire. Continue reading
A common issue faced by workers’ compensation insurers and medical providers is the prevalence of chronic opioid use by injured workers with chronic pain. Longterm use of opioids for chronic non-cancer pain increased dramatically over the past two decades, despite very little evidence that long-term (at least 16 weeks) opioid use for such pain is effective. (1) As many claims handlers are aware, injured workers often remain on opioid pain medicine for months or years – at great expense – with little to no benefit.
Recently, the Appellate Division clarified the employee’s burden of proof of contemporaneous notice required to toll (or pause) the statute of limitations in Maine workers’ compensation cases. Contemporaneous notice is a doctrine which tolls the statute of limitations for an earlier injury if the employee can show the employer/ insurer made payments on a later injury with contemporaneous knowledge those payments were at least partly necessitated by the earlier injury.
In a recent decision, the Appellate Division of the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board found that the Board had exceeded the scope of personal jurisdiction under Maine’s Long Arm statute when it agreed to decide a case involving a Massachusetts company. The employee, a Maine resident who had traveled to Massachusetts to take a job with AGM Maine Contractors, Inc., argued that the company had sufficient contacts with Maine to reasonably have anticipated litigation there. The purported contacts consisted of (1) a single project performed in Maine in nine years prior to the work injury, (2) language on the company’s website, holding itself out as available to do work in Maine, and (3) corporate registration in Maine. The Appellate Division found that, based on these contacts, the company could not have reasonably anticipated litigation in Maine and vacated the Board’s decision awarding the employee benefits.
This decision may be one of several developments in personal jurisdiction law in Maine over the next several years. We will keep an eye on this vital area of law and will provide updates when available.
For small business owners hiring both independent contractors and employees, it is important to fully understand the distinctions between the two to avoid complications from the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB). With everyone looking to cut costs and the WCB’s Abuse Investigation Unit cracking down on worker misclassification, we take a look at the definition of an independent contractor as laid out in the Workers’ Compensation Act, 39-A M.R.S.A. §102(13-A).
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