Worker's Compensation Case Law Update: Limits on the Remedial Medical Treatment Exception to the Statute of Limitations Defense

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In Ring Power Corp. v. Murphy, No. 1D17-1316 (Fla. 1st DCA Feb. 23, 2018)[1], Florida’s First District Court of Appeals held that an implanted medical device that serves a temporary purpose does not toll the two (2) year statute of limitations under Florida Statutes section 440.19. The issue on appeal was a matter of statutory interpretation, and therefore, the Court used the de novo standard of review.

Several months after a 2006 workplace accident, claimant had spinal fusion surgery in which surgeons used rods and screws to hold claimant’s spine in place until the bone completely healed. Claimant’s spine fully fused in less than a year after the 2006 surgery. The claimant filed a petition for benefits in 2016, three (3) years after his employer last provided worker’s compensation benefits.

The employer argued that the claimant’s petition was barred under Florida Statutes section 440.19 because the petition for benefits was filed over two (2) years after claimant last received medical treatment. Florida Statutes section 440.19 sets a general two (2) year statute of limitations for worker’s compensation claims subject to certain exceptions. Relying on the Gore v. Lee County School Board, 43 So.3d 846, 848 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010) and Lee v. City of Jacksonville, 616 So.2d 37, 39 (Fla. 1993), the claimant asserted that his petition was timely under section 440.19(2), which tolls the statute for one (1) year after the employer last pays compensation or furnishes medical treatment to the claimant. The claimant based his argument on the theory that the rods and screws that remained in his body indefinitely after the surgery were analogous to the continued use of a medical apparatus that constituted continual remedial treatment under Gore.

The Court distinguished Gore from the claimant’s case because the rods and screws implanted in claimant’s spine had no functional purpose after his spinal fusion was solid, whereas the claimant in Gore continually used a knee prothesis to function on a day to day basis after a partial knee replacement surgery. Thus, while the continued use of a medical apparatus may toll the statute of limitations under Florida Statutes section 440.19 (2), this exception does not extend to a medical apparatus that ceases to serve any functional purpose. Carriers must remember to allege the statute of limitations defense in their first responsive pleading to avoid waiving the defense.

[1] Decision not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

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