Work Injury Statute of Limitations Case in California

In Elkins v. Derby (1974) 12 Cal.3d 410, the plaintiff suffered an injury while working on the defendant's premises. Believing himself to be the defendant's employee, the plaintiff filed a claim for workers' compensation. However, several months later, after the one-year personal injury statute of limitations had expired, the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board determined that he had not been an employee at the time of his injury, and dismissed his claim. The plaintiff immediately filed an action for personal injuries, only to have the trial court dismiss it as untimely. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision, explaining that even though the plaintiff could have pursued both a workers' compensation remedy and a civil remedy at the same time, he was not obligated to do so. "Although defendants point out that plaintiff could have preserved his rights despite the statute of limitations by simultaneously commencing a civil action and a compensation claim, we believe that the statute may properly be tolled for the period during which plaintiff pursued his compensation remedy. As we explain below, an awkward duplication of procedures is not necessary to serve the fundamental purpose of the limitations statute, which is to insure timely notice to an adverse party so that he can assemble a defense when the facts are still fresh. The filing of a compensation claim accomplishes this purpose and the tolling of the statute does not frustrate it. Moreover, nothing in the cases forecloses a rule that the statute is tolled during the pendency of compensation proceedings; indeed, the pertinent authorities support such a rule. Defendants' suggested duplicative procedures would impose a heavy burden on all concerned. Such procedures would entail the filing of cases in our heavily burdened superior courts that would be mooted whenever the board decided it had jurisdiction to grant relief." (Elkins v. Derby, supra, 12 Cal.3d at p. 412.) The court went on to note that "if the defendant is not prejudiced thereby, the running of the limitations period is tolled 'when an injured person has several legal remedies and, reasonably and in good faith, pursues one.' " (Id. at p. 414.)