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Wal-Mart Associates, Inc. v. Armstrong

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

March 15, 2017

WAL-MART ASSOCIATES, INC., AND CLAIMS MANAGEMENT, INC. APPELLANTS
v.
PATRICIA ARMSTRONG APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE ARKANSAS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION [NO. F713233]

          Bassett Law Firm LLP, by: Curtis L. Nebben, for appellants.

          Tolley & Brooks, P.A., by: Evelyn E. Brooks, for appellee.

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge.

         Wal-Mart Associates, Inc. (Wal-Mart), appeals a decision of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission ("Commission"), which concluded that appellee Patricia Armstrong's claim for additional medical treatment for her admittedly compensable left-shoulder injury was reasonable and necessary. We reverse, holding that Armstrong's claim is barred by the statute of limitations.

         Armstrong filed a complaint with the Commission for additional benefits in February 2014. The statute governing the time for filing claims for additional benefits is section 11-9-702(b):

(b) Time for Filing Additional Compensation.
(1) In cases in which any compensation, including disability or medical, has been paid on account of injury, a claim for additional compensation shall be barred unless filed with the commission within one (1) year from the date of the last payment of compensation or two (2) years from the date of the injury, whichever is greater.

Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-702(b) (Repl. 2012).

         Thus, the plain language of the statute is clear and sets forth two definitive time periods in which a claim must be brought: one year from the date of last payment of compensation or two years from the date of injury, whichever is greater. Here, it is undisputed that Armstrong's left-shoulder injury occurred on December 24, 2006, and the last payment of compensation for Armstrong's left-shoulder injury was in August 2012. Therefore, her claim for additional benefits, which was filed in February 2014, was unquestionably filed more than one year from the date of last payment of compensation and more than two years from the date of injury.

         Following a strict construction of the statute, her claim should be deemed untimely. However, our courts have previously interpreted the statute to provide that a prior timely, but unresolved, claim for benefits may serve to toll the limitations period. Here, Armstrong filed a claim for benefits in 2008, within the two-year period after her injury. Therefore, we must determine if Armstrong's 2008 claim for benefits was unresolved and whether the statute of limitations was tolled under our case law.

         I. Evidence and Procedural History

         Patricia Armstrong experienced a work-related injury in December 2006 while working in the Wal-Mart bakery. The injury occurred when she was hit on her face and left shoulder by a twenty-pound box of frozen pies dropped by a coworker who was standing on a ladder. Armstrong contended that, as a result of this work-related incident, she received injuries to both her left shoulder and her neck.

         With regard to her shoulder, Armstrong initially received conservative treatment, but eventually more aggressive measures were necessary. She underwent three surgeries to her left shoulder. Wal-Mart accepted the ...


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