Is there a statute of limitations for an insurance carrier’s claim for reimbursement under the War Hazards Compensation Act? Without any statutory or regulatory language to the contrary, the answer is, “No.” If a Defense Base Act (“DBA”) claimant was injured by a “war-risk hazard,” as that term is defined by 42 U.S.C. § 1711, then a carrier may seek reimbursement for the benefits it was required to pay on account of that injury. 42 U.S.C. § 1704. The carrier is “entitled to be reimbursed for all benefits so paid or payable, including funeral and burial expenses, medical, hospital, or other similar costs for treatment and care; and reasonable and necessary claims expense in connection therewith.” Id. There is no statement in Section 104 that would limit the time when an initial request for reimbursement can be filed.
There is, however, a time limit for appealing a denial, so long as the denial decision is final. If the claim for reimbursement is denied in whole or in part, the carrier must be provided with an explanation of the denial. Then, a carrier in the United States can file objections (an appeal) within 60 days of the denial. A carrier outside the United States has six months to file objections. 20 C.F.R. § 61.102.
There are statements in the Code of Federal Regulations that could be mistaken for a statute of limitations, but those mistakes can be easily rectified. For instance, 20 C.F.R. § 61.202 states that the “time limitation provisions found in 5 U.S.C. 8119 apply to the filing of claims under section 101(a) of the War Hazards Compensation Act.” While 5 U.S.C. § 8119 provides a 30 day time limit, that time limit is inapplicable to a carrier’s initial claim for benefits. First, a Section 101(a) claim is a claim made directly by a claimant, not a carrier. A carrier’s claim for reimbursement is also known as a Section 104 claim. As the CFR makes clear, different rules are applicable to different types of claims, such as a claimant’s direct claim for benefits (section 101(a)), a claimant’s direct claim for detention benefits (section 101(b)), and a carrier’s claim for reimbursement (section 104). 20 C.F.R. § 61.3. Nowhere in the rules relating to carriers is there a statement limiting the time for filing an initial request for reimbursement.
What does this mean? It means that any employer, carrier or compensation fund that was required to pay benefits to any contractor because of a “war-risk hazard” injury can seek reimbursement at any time without concern of being time-barred.
(Note: I originally published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore and Defense Base Act Blog.)