According to the Missouri Division of Labor Standards, there were over 50,000 nonfatal occupational injuries in 2021 alone. There may be specific time limits associated with workers’ compensation claims in this state. This suggests that each year, many injured Missouri workers must navigate these time limits and other restrictions as they file workers’ compensation claims. Many questions may arise during this process. One of the most common questions workers ask is simple: “How long can a workers’ comp claim stay open?” Missouri workers concerned about the timeline of their workers’ compensation claim can get the answer to this question and many more by scheduling a free initial consultation with Steelman Gaunt Crowley at (573) 341-8336.
The Definition of an Open Workers’ Comp Claim
An “open” workers’ comp claim is one that is not fully resolved. Resolutions can take many forms, including:
- Lump-sum payments
- Periodic payments
- Judicial rulings
Depending on the circumstances of the accident and resulting injuries, workers’ comp claims may remain open for weeks, months, or years. When workers suffer permanent disabilities that require ongoing medical treatment, workers’ comp claims may remain open for a lifetime.
Workers’ comp claims vary depending on each set of circumstances. This might involve settling for a final award or keeping the claim open while pursuing more appropriate benefits and compensation. As a result, there is no universal time limit for how long a claim may remain open or active. Because the uncertainty involved may be stressful, many injured workers prefer to navigate the workers’ compensation claim process with the support and advice of an experienced attorney.
Maximum Medical Improvement Can Affect the Duration of Claims
Injured workers may consider their Maximum Medical Improvement or “MMI” when determining whether to keep their workers’ compensation claims open. A worker reaches their Maximum Medical Improvement when doctors agree that their condition will not improve any further.
What Is Maximum Medical Improvement?
A worker might undergo extensive rehabilitation after suffering a head injury. This rehabilitation may restore some of the victims’ cognitive and motor control abilities, but certain issues may prove to be permanent. If further treatment is not causing any additional improvements, doctors may agree that they have done all they can to treat the victim. At this point, the injured person has reached their maximum medical improvement.
Keeping Claims Open Until MMI
In some cases, injured workers may find it beneficial to keep their workers’ comp claims open until they reach their MMI. This is especially true for those who have suffered serious, potentially life-altering injuries. Note that it may take many months for a worker to reach their MMI. During this treatment period, the worker may receive attractive settlement offers.
Keeping their claims open until they reach their MMI allows workers to ascertain the long-term implications of their injuries, avoid accepting settlements too hastily, and negotiate from a position of greater understanding. Injured workers deciding whether to keep claims open or accept lump-sum settlements may wish to contact the experienced workman’s comp lawyers at Steelman Gaunt Crowley to schedule a free consultation to review the particulars of their workers’ compensation claim.
Temporary Disability Benefits vs. Permanent Disability Benefits
Disability benefits are calculated and awarded in two different categories, depending on whether the benefits are intended to support an injured worker as they recover from their injury or on the other hand are designed to support an injured worker who is not expected to make a full recovery. With an understanding of temporary vs. permanent disability benefits in Missouri, workers can determine how long their claims may remain open:
Temporary Disability Benefits
Temporary disability benefits end when a worker reaches MMI. These include both financial disability benefits (partial or total) and employer-provided medical care. If a worker cannot return to work after reaching their MMI, they can continue to receive temporary total disability benefits for up to 400 weeks.
Permanent Disability Benefits
After a worker reaches their MMI, they have the option to apply for permanent disability benefits. According to Missouri Statute 287.170, they can do this after their temporary disability benefits expire.
As the name implies, permanent disability benefits continue indefinitely. On the other hand, a claim for temporary disability benefits can only remain open for 400 weeks after a worker reaches MMI. In other words, the answer to the question, “How long can a workers’ compensation claim remain open?” depends partly on the distinction between permanent and total disability benefits.
Permanently and Totally Disabled vs. Permanently and Partially Disabled
According to the Missouri Department of Labor, claims may be held open or closed depending on whether workers are Permanently and Totally Disabled (PTD) or Permanently and Partially Disabled (PPD). The Department of Labor states that PTD workers “may be entitled to receive weekly benefits for life.” However, PTD workers may also elect to receive lump-sum payments and close their workers’ compensation claims.
On the other hand, the Department of Labor states that PPD workers are more likely to be paid lump sums according to a three-part formula. After workers receive these lump sums, their claims are closed.
Workers’ Compensation Court Cases
While accepting a workers’ compensation settlement is common, injured workers can also seek to resolve their claims through judicial hearings. This may be a viable course of action if the mediation process fails to provide positive results for injured workers.
The judicial process may involve numerous steps. While there is no requirement to retain the services of an attorney to navigate this system, because of its complexity and the amount of time and energy often involved in pursuing a claim many individuals who choose this route prefer to work with an attorney who specializes in workers’ compensation cases.
If mediation is unsuccessful, a judge may discuss the case and any further steps alongside workers, employers, and insurers during a pre-hearing conference. If it is clear that a judicial hearing is the only way to resolve the disputed claim, the judge will schedule a formal hearing.
Workers also have the opportunity to schedule a hardship hearing if they are not receiving treatment or benefits from their employer before they reach MMI. Both parties can present evidence during this hearing, and a final award may be issued at its conclusion. If a final award is issued, the claim is closed.
If a worker has reached MMI and the case is ready for final resolution, they may pursue a final hearing. This is an evidentiary hearing, and a tribunal reviews the record.
The Appellate Process
Workers who are dissatisfied with the decision reached by the tribunal* have the option to continue their pursuit of legal remedy through the appellate courts, including the Missouri Court of Appeals and, if necessary, the Missouri Supreme Court. While there is no set limit on how long this process may take, workers do have a filing deadline of 30 days from the date the tribunal issues its decision. Workers’ compensation claims may remain open throughout this process.
Contact a Missouri Workers’ Comp Attorney for Further Guidance
When workers contact a Missouri workers’ comp law firm such as Steelman Gaunt Crowley, they can ask many important questions during their consultations. “How long can a workers’ comp claim stay open?” is one of the common questions our attorneys are asked, but clients may also wish to consider addressing how much their workers’ comp claim may be worth, or what kind of evidence they will need to provide to demonstrate the severity and long-term impacts of their injuries. The answers to these questions and many others depend on the unique circumstances of each workplace accident. This is why speaking with a qualified workers’ compensation attorney for accurate, personalized guidance can make the workers’ compensation claims process easier to navigate. Call (573) 341-8336 to learn more and schedule your individual consultation