PERTINENT CHANGES TO THE STATUTE-OF-LIMITATIONS DEFENSE - DOES THE MEDICAL APPARATUS SERVE A FUNCTION?



Amanda Mitteer Bartley

AMANDA MITTEER BARTLEY focuses her practice on civil litigation, and primarily workers’ compensation litigation defense, on behalf of insurance companies and employers. Ms. Bartley has also secured clients in need of general liability defense and represented numerous carriers and employers in the representation of all areas of workers’ compensation. Ms. Bartley helps her clients by working closely with them to achieve positive outcomes. Her legal strategies include an emphasis on...

On February 23, 2018, the Florida First District Court of Appeal made a significant ruling regarding the statute-of-limitations defense in Ring Power Corp./USIS v. Murphy, 2018 Fla. App. LEXIS 2661 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018).

In this case, the claimant underwent spinal surgery after his 2006 industrial accident. The physician used rods and screws to stabilize his spine while the bone grew back together. His fusion was solid after a year. Although the rods and screws remained attached to his spine, they no longer performed any function. The last time that the claimant was provided with benefits by the employer/carrier was in 2013. Therefore, the employer/carrier asserted the statute-of-limitations defense. However, the claimant responded that per Gore v. Lee Cty. Sch. Bd., 43 So.3d 846 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010), the statute of limitations did not run because of the claimant’s “continued use” of a medical apparatus, i.e. the rods and screws. The underlying Judge of Compensation Claims agreed with the claimant. The employer/carrier appealed.  

The Florida First DCA determined, “whether having rods and screws attached indefinitely means a claimant is ‘furnish[ed] remedial treatment’ indefinitely” thereby tolling the statute of limitations forever. It held that it did not.  

Because the claimant’s bone grew back together, the rods and screws no longer served any purposes. Unlike the claimant in Gore v. Lee Cty. Sch. Bd., who utilized knee prosthesis, this claimant was no longer “using” the rods and screws. They were determined to be for a temporary purpose and served no function at all for years. Therefore, the First District Court of Appeal reversed the Judge of Compensation Claims’ decisions and opined that the placement of the rods and screws did not toll the statute of limitations.

Therefore, if you have been asserting, or intend to assert, the statute-of-limitations defense on a claim, confirm whether the medical apparatus served a temporary purpose, such as screws whereby the bones eventually grow back together, or whether it serves a function within the body for the claimant, such as a total knee replacement; without it, the claimant could not function. And always remember, you must assert the statute-of-limitations defense within your first responsive pleading or else you waive this defense.