Before Bridges, C.j., Hinkebein, And King, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hinkebein, J., For The Court:
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/24/97
TRIAL JUDGE: HON. HENRY LAFAYETTE LACKEY
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: BENTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - WORKERS' COMPENSATION
TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: REVERSAL OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION'S DISMISSAL OF CLAIM AS BARRED BY STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
¶1. This is an appeal by ABC Manufacturing Corporation and its Workers' Compensation Carrier, Continental Casualty Company, from an order of the Benton County Circuit Court reversing the prior decision of the administrative law Judge as affirmed by the full Commission. Aggrieved by the circuit court's Conclusion that both the ALJ and Commission were arbitrary and capricious in dismissing claimant Martha Jane Doyle's claim, ABC appeals on the following ground:
I. WHETHER THERE EXISTS SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE INDICATING THAT DOYLE FAILED TO MAKE APPLICATION FOR COMPENSATION WITHIN THE APPLICABLE ONE-YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS.
Due to the great deference we give to the findings of the Commission, we reverse the circuit court and reinstate the order of the Workers' Compensation Commission.
¶2. The relevant facts in this case are essentially undisputed. Doyle injured her back in the course of her employment as a sewing machine operator at ABC on February 2, 1993. During the following months she sought medical treatment from various physicians and concurrently received temporary total disability benefits through June 4, 1993 when she was released to return to work based on a finding that she had long since reached maximum medical improvement. Nevertheless, Mrs. Doyle continued to allege that she was in considerable pain and consequently refused to return to ABC. Thereafter, ABC filed with the Commission a "Notice of Controversy" and form B-31 Final Report and Settlement Receipt on August 18 and October 20 respectively. The former sought a hearing by which certain aspects of Doyle's claim, including, but not limited to, the true origin of her injury as well as her purported continuing inability to perform assigned duties, might be addressed. The latter, of which Doyle was made aware by certified mail on October 25, notified the Commission that the final payment of compensation in the amount of $2,394.99 had been made.
¶3. Although form B-31 clearly warned that "the closing of this file may become final one year after the proper filing of this form," Doyle had no notable contact with either ABC, the carrier, or the Commission until June 4, 1994 when Doyle's attorneys filed with the Commission a Petition for Acceptance of Representation and Entry of Appearance. Thereafter, several additional months passed before any action was taken in the case. Doyle's counsel finally filed a form B-5, 11 Petition to Controvert on April 12, 1995. The reason for this lengthy silence is not entirely clear as Doyle had been continuing to see doctors of her own choosing on a reasonably regular basis from mid-1993 through November of 1994. However, the record suggests that the eventual loss of her own health benefits, by which she had financed the balance of the associated cost, played some role in her decision to pursue funding from an alternative source. In any event, on May 3, ABC and its carrier answered, raising as an affirmative defense the one year statute of limitations as defined by § 71-3-53 of the Code. Following the substitution of present counsel who has since pursued this matter with reasonable diligence and promptness, Doyle's case proceeded toward an April 1996 hearing before the ALJ. After both the ALJ and full Commission found her claim to be barred as alleged, Doyle successfully appealed to the circuit court, whose order we are presently asked to review.
I. WHETHER THERE EXISTS SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE INDICATING THAT DOYLE FAILED TO MAKE APPLICATION FOR COMPENSATION WITH THE ...