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Thurman v. Zandstra Construction

June 16, 2010

EDWARD D. THURMAN, CLAIMANT AND APPELLANT,
v.
ZANDSTRA CONSTRUCTION, EMPLOYER AND APPELLEE, AND GENERAL CASUALTY, INSURER AND APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA, HONORABLE MERTON B. TICE, JR. Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Zinter, Justice.

CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON APRIL 26, 2010

[¶1.] Following a work-related injury, Edward D. Thurman's employer and insurer (collectively referred to as Employer) paid Thurman workers' compensation benefits. Almost four years after the last payment, Thurman petitioned the Department of Labor for additional benefits arising from the same injury. The Department and circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Employer. Both concluded that Thurman's petition was untimely under a statute of limitations barring additional claims filed more than three years after the Employer's last payment. Thurman appeals, arguing that under a different statute of limitations, his time to file the claim was extended for two years following Employer's letter denying the claim. We disagree and affirm the circuit court.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2.] The facts are not disputed. Thurman suffered a work-related injury on September 24, 1999. On January 28, 2002, Employer paid Thurman $6,708 in permanent partial disability benefits. Thurman received his last medical treatment on June 1, 2004, and Employer made its last payment for medical benefits on June 29, 2004. Employer paid no further benefits associated with this injury.

[¶3.] In February 2007, Thurman contacted Employer and requested additional benefits for medical services he received between April 7, 2003, and June 18, 2004. Employer did not pay the additional benefits. On May 2, 2008, Employer sent Thurman and the Department a letter formally indicating that Thurman's request was denied because there "was no connection between [Thurman's compensable work-related] injury and the treatment in 2003 and 2004."*fn1 On June 20, 2008, Thurman petitioned the Department for a hearing to obtain the additional benefits.

[¶4.] Employer opposed the petition, asserting that it was barred under the statute of limitations in SDCL 62-7-35.1. SDCL 62-7-35.1 provides that when:

[B]enefits have been tendered . . . on account of an injury, any claim for additional compensation shall be barred, unless the claimant files a written petition for hearing . . . with the department within three years from the date of the last payment of benefits. (Emphasis added.)*fn2 Employer pointed out that Thurman did not petition for additional benefits until more than three years after Employer's last payment of benefits.

[¶5.] Thurman argued that the statute of limitations in SDCL 62-7-35 applied. That statute provides:

The right to compensation under this title shall be forever barred unless a written petition for hearing . . . is filed by the claimant with the department within two years after the . . . insurer notifies the claimant and the department , in writing , that it intends to deny coverage[.]

SDCL 62-7-35 (emphasis added). Thurman pointed out that he petitioned the Department for benefits within two years after he received the Employer's letter notifying him that his claim for additional benefits was denied.

[¶6.] Both parties moved for summary judgment. The Department granted Employer's motion, concluding that SDCL 62-7-35.1 applied. The Department reasoned: "The final payment of benefits was paid on June 29, 2004. At that time, the claim had not been denied and therefore the three year statute of limitations . . . in SDCL 62-7-35.1 applied."

[¶7.] Thurman appealed to circuit court. The circuit court agreed that SDCL 62-7-35.1 applied. The court further ruled that SDCL 62-7-35 did not apply because Thurman's petition for additional benefits was already barred at the time the denial letter was sent. The court reasoned:

The purpose of [SDCL 62-7-35,] the two-year statute of limitations[,] for denied claims is not to subsequently revive claims already long dead. The denial letter, sent after the three year statute of limitations, does not extend the ...


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