In this workmen's compensation case Claimant appeals from an order of the Superior Court affirming a decision by the Industrial Accident Board; the Board denied compensation on the ground that it was barred by the Statute of Limitations.
On November 2, 1968, Claimant was injured in an accident in the course of his employment. He lost no time from work but began a course of medical treatment which continues, apparently, to the present time. The Employer, through its Insurance Carrier, paid all expenses for such treatments until November 20, 1971.
On July 19, 1973, Claimant filed a petition with the Board seeking payment of medical expenses arising out of the accident. The Employer pleaded the Statute of Limitations and the Board dismissed the petition. The Superior Court affirmed.
The pertinent Limitations Statute, 19 Del.C. § 2361, provides:
Employer argues that the parties had not agreed upon compensation, that an agreement had not been approved by the Board and, therefore, the two-year Statute applies. Consequently, continues the Employer, the claim is barred because it was not filed within the two-year period beginning November 2, 1968 (the date of injury). Relying on Delaware decisions, that rationale was accepted by the Superior Court.
Our analysis of the record and the law persuades us that such a result is both unjust and at odds with the Statute.
Given the fact that Claimant was injured in an industrial accident and that the Carrier paid his medical expenses for more than three years, the only reasonable conclusion is that the Carrier considered itself obliged to do so under the Act. And since Claimant accepted the benefit of such payments, it follows that the parties had reached "an agreement in regard to compensation... in accordance with the provision of" the Act.
We recognize that some of our cases have characterized payments by a carrier under similar circumstances as "voluntary", and so they may be if the term is used to indicate the absence of a Board order. See Delaware Association of Police v. Donahue, Del.Super., 298 A.2d 342 (1972), and compare Pusey v. Reed, Del. Super., 258 A.2d 460 (1969). But certainly they are not gratuitous or unconstrained in the sense that they have no reference to the Act. In a word, they are not gifts flowing merely from a generosity of spirit by a carrier. An industrial accident followed by payment of medical expenses by the carrier for the employer for three years points inevitably, not to a gift, but to the Compensation Act.
Once a § 2344 agreement has been made, that Statute requires that a "memorandum of such agreement ... shall be filed with the Board." And Board Rule 20 directs that:
Board Rule 4 requires that notice of a denial of liability be given to an injured employee.
In our view, the burden of complying with § 2344 by filing a memorandum of agreement with the Board rests, at least in the first instance, on an employer and/or its carrier. Placing that obligation upon the employer/carrier, and not upon a claimant, is eminently fair and practical since the carrier is, presumably, a qualified professional entity working routinely in the administration of Compensation Act coverage. Ordinarily, at least, an employee has little or no experience in such matters. And if an employer/carrier does not file a § 2344 memorandum of agreement with the Board or give Rule 4 notice of a denial of liability to an injured employee, it may not capitalize on either default.
Here, Claimant filed a petition for compensation on July 19, 1973, which was within the five-year period permitted by § 2361(b). For present purposes we regard that time as beginning to run on the date the last medical payment was made. It follows that the appeal was timely and, for that reason, the judgment of the Superior Court must be reversed.
The Employer relies upon such cases as Delaware Association of Police v. Donahue supra and Pusey v. Reed supra, which the Court below considered binding upon it. While each case is necessarily bottomed on its own facts, to the extent those cases apply a different interpretation of § 2361, they are overruled.
The Carrier and the Court below also rely on Bryan v. Divita, 315 C.A. 1972 (N.C.C.), affirmed by this Court as No. 12, 1973; but that case is distinguishable because the claimant sought to have the limitations period tolled by a single payment of $7.00 made two and a half years after the accident.
Medical expenses are included in the statutory definition of "compensation". 19 Del.C. § 2301(4).