Stephanie H. Wheeler v. Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co

[B]Date Decided[/B]: Feb 15[SUP]th[/SUP], 2011
[B]Decided By[/B]: U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit (Federal)
[B]Court[/B]: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
[B]Citation[/B]: 637 F. 3d 280
In 1992, plaintiff Stephanie H. Wheeler (“Wheeler”) sustained injuries to both of her knees while working for her employer, defendant Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. (“Newport News”). Wheeler sought total and partial disability payments under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, [I]33 U.S.C. [/I][I]§§ 901-950[/I] (“LHWCA”), which she obtained.
In 2002, Wheeler sought a modification of her award for continued payment of total and partial disability compensation. However, Newport News contested these payments, and in 2003 the Benefits Review Board (“the Board”) affirmed an Administrative Law Judge’s order denying Wheeler’s claim.
In 2006, Wheeler underwent additional surgery for her knees, which Newport News voluntarily paid to her healthcare provider. In 2007, less than one year after Newport News paid for her knee surgery, Wheeler again petitioned to modify the payment of total and partial disability compensation. Specifically, she sought payment of compensation from the date of her surgery to the present.
The Board rejected Wheeler’s petition reasoning she was barred from bringing a claim to modify compensation payments by the statute of limitations. Under LHWCA Section 22, an employee is barred from bringing a claim to modify compensation if the request is made more than one year “after the date of the last payment of compensation” or "after the rejection of a claim."
On appeal, Wheeler claims the Board erred in their interpretation of Section 22. She argues payment of her 2006 surgery expenses constitutes a “payment of compensation” under Section 22, and thus her second petition to modify was timely brought. Newport News argues that voluntary payments of medical expenses do not constitute compensation, and thus Wheeler’s claim was correctly denied because she brought it more than 1 after the rejection of her 2003 claim.
This Court reviews the Board’s interpretation of the LHWCA Section 22 [I]de novo[/I].
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