Tolling the statute of limitations for change-in-condition applications under Virginia Act

In Ford Motor Company v. Gordon, 281 Va. 543, 708 S.E. 2d 846 (2011), the Court considered the proper interpretation of Va. Code sec. 65.2-708(A) and 65.2-708(C), which govern the tolling of the statute of limitations for filing a change-in-condition application for workers' compensation benefits. The Court held that the Code sec. 65.2-708(A) statute of limitations runs anew under each successive award of compensation for a particular compensable injury and is triggered on the last day for which compensation was paid. The Court also held that Code sec. 65.2-708(C), by providing for wages meeting certain prescribed conditions to be treated as compensation under sec. 65.2-708(A), applies to each such award.

The effect of these statutes is best understood by their application to the facts of the Gordon case. The claimant sustained a compensable injury in Ford's plant in Norfolk, Virginia on January 9, 2000. Based on this injury, the Commission entered a series of awards of compensation to Gordon for various periods of TTD and PD. The last of these awards was entered on January 13, 2003, which was an open-ended award for TTD. Gordon received his last payment under this award on February 23, 2003. Thereafter, between periods of TTD, he worked in light duty positions for Ford. He worked light duty from October 23, 2000 to January 3, 2001; from April 1, 2002 through June 30, 2002, and from April 20, 2003 through September 11, 2006, earning wages equal to or higher than his pre-injury average weekly wage. On September 11, 2006, he was temporarily laid off from his position at Ford because the plant was shut down for production reasons, and he filed a change-in-condition application on September 25, 2006, seeking TTD benefits based on lost wages caused by this change in condition.

The Court's holding meant that because Gordon worked in a light-duty capacity for Ford from April 2003 through September 11, 2006, and was paid wages equal to or greater than his pre-injury wage, under Code sec. 65.2-708(C), the wages that Ford paid to Gordon during the first 24 months must be considered "compensation" for purposes of tolling the statute of limitations under Code sec. 65.2-708(A). Accordingly, since the application for benefits was made within 24 months after the last day for which compensation was paid, the application was timely.

Subsequent to the Gordon decision, the Virginia Court of Appeals has applied Gordon in Prince William County School Board and VML Insurance Programs v. Rahim, No. 1737-10-2 (Va. App. July 12, 2011). There, the Court held that in a case where the Commission had entered a "medical-only" award, under Code secs. 65.2-708(A) and 708(C), the claimant had 24 months from the last day compensation was paid either pursuant to an award or pursuant to the requirements of subsection C within which to file a change-in-condition application. In so ruling, the Court distinguished Mayberry v. Alcoa Bldg Prod., 18 Va. App. 18, 441 S.E.2d 349 (1994), and limited that decision to its facts, on the grounds that in Mayberry, there had been no formal award entered by the commission, and voluntary payment of medical expenses by the insurer is not the payment of compensation which tolls the running of the statute of limitations.