To receive workers’ compensation benefits, you must file a workers’ compensation claim within certain time limits. Each state and federal workers’ compensation law has a different time limit for filing, as described below. In general, the sooner you file a claim the better. This is because the sooner you file a claim, the easier it will be to prove your eligibility for workers’ compensation, and the sooner you will start receiving benefits.
Time Limits for Filing
State law varies, but each state has time limits within which you must file a workers’ compensation claim. Common time limits are between 30 days and 90 days. In some states, however, the time limit is much longer. For instance, in California, you have one to five years to file your claim (though you have only 30 days to report the claim to your employer).
There are some general exceptions to the claim-filing time limits that apply in most states:
- Injury that results in coma, rendering the employee unable to file a claim
- Injuries that are severe and require immediate and prolonged treatment or surgery, such as serious burns, and
- Illnesses that can be contagious, requiring the employee to remain quarantined and unable to file a claim.
These exceptions are narrow and apply only in a few, limited cases.
Occupational Disease or Cumulative Traumas
For occupational disease or cumulative trauma claims, the time limits are stretched considerably. Many states require that you report the claim within a certain period of time from the last “injurious exposure” (such as exposure to asbestos) or from the date your doctor first informed you that your disease could be related to your employment. In California, for example, your date of injury is when you visited a doctor or took off work because of the injury, and when you knew or should have known that the injury was caused by work.
Regardless of whether your workers’ compensation claim is an injury or occupational disease, early reporting is key. If you do not report timely, you may not be able to file a workers’ compensation claim at all.
Don't hesitate to file a claim even if your condition seems mild or moderate at this time; if there is a possibility your condition could worsen, file your claim now. This is a frequent case with back injuries. Many people will think that their condition will get better, so they will not report the claim. Do not wait; you may lose the chase to get workers' comp benefits.
Instead, file the claim. If your condition gets better, then your claim will simply close and no harm is done. That is much better than foregoing your right to workers’ compensation benefits by waiting to see if your condition improves on its own.
Other Time Limits
The deadline we are talking about here is filing of the workers’ compensation claim, not general reporting to your employer. When you report your injury to your employer, you tell your employer that you were hurt at work and would like to file a workers’ compensation claim. Do not just tell your employer that you were hurt and would like some time off; your employer needs to know that you were injured on the job. When your employer is informed of your workers’ compensation claim, your employer will help you complete the paperwork necessary to file your claim.
There are other time limits to know of with regards to a workers’ compensation claim.
First, if you had a previous workers’ compensation claim, and your claim-related condition has worsened since your claim was closed, you have a certain period of time to request that your workers’ compensation claim be reopened. Reopening your claim allows you to begin receiving workers’ compensation benefits again.
There are also deadlines for submitting bills to your employer for coverage of treatment, so make sure your doctor knows you are receiving treatment under a workers’ compensation claim. Your doctor will then be able to correctly bill your employer or its workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
Ask a Workers' Comp Attorney
An attorney experienced in workers’ compensation in your area is your best resource for knowing the deadlines applicable to your situation. Your attorney will ensure that all of the deadlines are met. This means bad timing alone will not prevent you from receiving all of the workers’ compensation benefits you are eligible to receive.
If your employer has told you that you are too late to file a workers’ compensation claim, you should consult with an attorney to learn whether this is true and whether there are any alternatives to pursuing workers’ compensation benefits.