Thursday, October 22, 2015

Maryland E-filing and Statute of Limitations

The Maryland Supreme Court explained e-filing in June. The case was Hranicka v. Chesapeake Surgical, Ltd. it is an interesting analysis

The injured worker was faced with a two year statute of limitations, similar to the Florida limitation period in Fla, Stat. 440.19. Maryland has electronic filing for workers' compensation claims. The claim in this case was "electronically submitted to the Workers’ Compensation Commission (“the Commission”) before expiration of the two-year period, but not filed on paper until after expiration of the two-year period."

The worker was in a  motor vehicle accident on January 6, 2010. A notice of injury was prepared and filed both electronically and in paper form. The Maryland system appears to move matters to a litigated state more rapidly than Florida's. When the notice was received on January 28, 2010, almost immediately on February 3, 2010, the "Commission and assigned a 'consideration date' of February 24, 2010, for" the Employer.Carrier to contest the claim.

In Florida, this would be a progression defined by statute, and would occur without any involvement of our regulatory agency, the Division of Workers' Compensation. Our Division does not notify parties of response dates.  The notice of injury in Florida does not necessarily mean there will be litigation either. In fact, most notices of injury do not progress to Petitions or litigation here. 

Because the Employer/Carrier refuted compensability, a hearing was set for May of 2010. That is a very rapid progress by any comparison. That hearing did not proceed as scheduled, upon the Claimant's request and withdrawal of his claim. Then nothing occurred until 2012. On January 17, 2013 the Claimant electronically submitted a "claim form." On January 24, 2015 the hard-copy of this form and some other paperwork was received by the Commission.

When a new hearing was set, the Employer/Carrier contended that the claim was time-barred. The  assigned Commissioner (Maryland does not have "Judges") concluded that the electronic claim of January 17 was accepted "for statute of limitations purposes." She noted that an electronic signature was not possible in Maryland because of "the concern of privacy and security," thus leading to the requirement for the electronically submitted form to be signed and re-submitted in paper form.

The assigned Commissioner concluded the claim was timely as electronically filed.

After unsuccessful rehearing efforts, the Employer/Carrier filed for judicial review in the Circuit Court. Unlike Florida, appeals in Maryland begin their process in the court of general jurisdiction. That Court concluded that the claim was time-barred. Essentially concluding that the filing of a signed claim was the required event to instigate a new claim. This led to Claimant filing a petition for a writ of certiorari, and the opinion linked above.

The Claimant argued "that one of the purposes of the Commission’s Web-Enabled File Management System is to facilitate the electronic filing of workers’ compensation claims." Essentially, he said, the electronic filing is a superfluous fallacy if it has no legal effect. He also argued that the statute "should be construed liberally in favor of employees, any ambiguity concerning the filing date should be construed in his favor."

Both sides in this case drew support from interest groups filing amicus briefs. Noting that there was some deference to the Commission and its expertise, the Court concluded that the law did not support the assigned Commissioner's interpretation. 

The Court noted that the Commission's regulations require a claim that the employee has signed. The regulations further provide that "(8) Date of Filing. (a) A claim is considered filed on the date that a completed and signed claim form, including the signed authorization for disclosure of health information, is received by the Commission."

Thus, "electronic submission of a claim does not constitute 'filing'of a claim." Therefore, because this Claimant's form "was not filed on paper with and date-stamped by the Commission until after expiration of the two-year deadline," it was time-barred. 

The Court noted that there was no reason that Maryland's system could not work as the Commissioner ruled. It noted that some could view "the language of the Commission’s regulation that requires a paper submission to 'file' a claim is an impediment." But for the Commissioner's ruling to be appropriate, the Court noted, the Commission would need to revise "its regulations to adopt the approach expressed by (the) Commissioner. 

My views on the benefits of electronic filing are no secret. The tool is a value if it saves all of the parties and attorneys time and/or money. A system that allows electronic filings, but requires submission of a duplicate in paper format seems redundant. It is like having a PDMP and not requiring anyone to use it. In this case, it resulted in misunderstanding and significant litigation. 

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