Zombie Cases, and why they’re BACK, with a Vengeance
Longley v. Miami-Dade County School Board is a landmark decision that changes everything in the world of workers compensation. In Longley, the Claimant filed a Petition for Benefits requesting re-authorization of her treating doctor. The Employer/Carrier agreed to the re-authorization and the parties sent a letter to the mediator indicating their agreement to the doctor, but they reserved ruling on attorney’s fees and costs. The Claimant would file a new Petition for Benefits a year later, and the Employer/Carrier would deny the Petition with a statute of limitations defense.
Statute of Limitations
The Employer Carrier’s main argument was that because the Claimant withdrew her original petition in her mediation agreement, the Statute of Limitations ran, and the Claimant’s new petition would be barred. The trial court agreed with the Employer/Carrier, however, in a shocking twist of fate, the Appellate Court reversed the Trial Court, and ruled on behalf of the Claimant, indicating that because the Claimant’s reserved ruling on Attorney’s fees and costs, that the case was not stopped dead in its tracks by the infamous Statute of Limitations defense.
The Never Dying Case
Fast Forward to the present and the ramifications of the Longley decision will change the overall scope of Workers Compensation Law and Practice for years to come. The Longley Appellate Court held that because the Claimant reserved on Attorney’s Fees and costs in the Mediation agreement, the statute of limitations tolled, or in more practical terms, was stopped, dead in its tracks. What does this mean in layman’s terms? If Attorney A is to file a Petition for Benefits and subsequently agrees to all Petition issues with the Employer/Carrier, but is smart enough to reserve on attorney’s fees and costs, the Statute of Limitations will not run, and thus the Petition cannot be removed from the docket. As an example, just like the zombies in the Night of the Living Dead, a case that was dismissed 20 years ago would be revived, and ready for action.
Settle and Resolve
The practical effect of the Longley decision is that Employers will want to settle older, dormant cases as soon as possible. Employers will want to resolve liens owed on “dead files” rather than allow the Statute of Limitations to toll. It is anticipated that a plethora of previously “dormant” files will be re-opened and litigated once again. Those prudent attorneys that reserved on attorney’s fees and costs will be able to use the holding of Longley to ensure that their liens are resolved. If the attorney’s fees and liens are not resolved, then the case becomes viable once again, just like a zombie rising from the dead.