Statute of limitations or prescriptive periods refers to the time within which a personal injury lawsuit must be brought after the accident has occurred. This means that a claim or lawsuit must be filed within the period allowed by law; otherwise it will expire and will not be recognized by the courts. It will result in the loss of a right of action by the lapse of time. This principle is based on the probability, born by experience, that the alleged right which accrued in the distant past never existed or has already been extinguished. Even if it exists, the inconvenience caused by the lapse of time should be suffered by the party negligent in the assertion of his right.
The purpose of imposing a statute of limitations is to protect the diligent and vigilant, not the person who sleeps on his rights, forgetting them and taking no trouble of exercising them one way or another to show that he truly has such rights. For practical purposes, claims and actions must be filed within the statute of limitations in order to gather evidence while they are still fresh or existent. Unnecessary delay might result to loss of evidence or difficulty in securing them.
Under Massachusetts law on worker's compensation, any proceedings for compensation must be filed within four years from the date the employee first became aware of the causal relationship between his disability/injury and his employment. The same period applies even for claims arising from death of an employee. In case there is a pending claim against a third person other than the insured, claim for compensation shall be made not later than sixty days after such discontinuance. Payment of compensation under the worker's compensation law or the filing of a claim under the same law shall suspend the running of the statute of limitations.
For example, Company A employs Worker B as a welder. Worker B's tasks include welding car parts in an assembly line. If he suffers lung cancer due to the inhalation of acetylene fumes, he has four years upon discovery of the connection of his illness to the his kind of work to file for worker's compensation. To determine the start of the period, there must be a definite finding of causal connection between the injury or illness and the nature of the employment. If the doctor's diagnosis was released in December 12, 2008 and such diagnosis expressly states that the cause of the cancer is exposure to toxic fumes, then the statute of limitation is counted from such date. Worker A has until December 12, 2012 to file any action.
Recently, the Massachusetts compensation law has been amended to include right of action to sue employers who fail to follow the worker's compensation law. Any three private citizens can now file a civil suit for against employers violating the law. The suit may include claims for monetary award, compensatory and liquidated damages, and costs and attorney’s fee. Actions arising from this rule shall be filed within six years. The amendment took effect on November 7, 2010.