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DOBSON v. QUINN FREIGHT LINES

June 11, 1980

STANLEY DOBSON
v.
QUINN FREIGHT LINES, INC



Appeal from the Workers' Compensation Commission.

Before McKUSICK, C.J., and Wernick, Godfrey, Glassman and Roberts, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Godfrey, Justice.

Stanley Dobson injured his back in January, 1966, while employed by Quinn Freight Lines. Quinn, a self-insurer, paid workers' compensation benefits to Dobson pursuant to two approved agreements. The payment of benefits ended, by agreement, in October, 1967. Dobson re-injured his back in August, 1975, when he was no longer working for Quinn.

In June, 1977, Dobson filed a petition for medical expenses, naming Quinn as the responsible employer because of a causal connection between the 1966 injury and the 1975 re-injury. The Commission found a causal relationship between the injuries but dismissed the petition on the ground that it was barred by the ten-year limitation period provided in section 95 of title 39 of the Revised Statutes as that section read in January, 1966, when the original injury occurred. From a pro forma decree of the Superior Court, Dobson duly appealed to this Court. We sustain the appeal.

The sole issue is whether the Commission erred in applying the version of section 95 in force at the time of Dobson's original accident instead of the present version. The relevant amendment became effective in February, 1966. At the time of Dobson's original injury, section 95 provided as follows:

    Any employee's claim for compensation under this Act shall be
  barred unless an agreement or a petition as provided in section
  94 shall be filed within 2 years after the date of the
  accident. Any time during which the employee is unable by
  reason of physical or mental incapacity to file said petition
  shall not be included in the period aforesaid. If the employee
  fails to file said petition within said period because of
  mistake of fact as to the cause and nature of the injury, he
  may file said petition within a reasonable time. In case of the
  death of the employee, there shall be allowed for filing said
  petition one year after such death. No petition of any kind may
  be filed more than 10 years following an accident.*fn1
Section 8 of P.L. 1965, ch. 489, effective February 1, 1966, amended the last sentence to provide:
  No petition of any kind may be filed more than 10 years
  following the date of the latest payment made under this Act.
If the amended version should apply to the present case, Dobson's petition would not be barred.

The Commission based its decision on Reggep v. Lunder Shoe Products Co., Me., 241 A.2d 802 (1968), which dealt with an amendment to the statutory formula for the computation of permanent impairment awards. We held that the employee had a vested right to compensation in the amount provided by statute at the time of his injury, which amount, we said, could not be changed by subsequent legislation. 241 A.2d at 804. The principle of Reggep does not apply to the present case. Here, the change in the statute does not enlarge or diminish any substantial right of the employee; it has merely the effect of enlarging one of the time limitations on the filing of a claim. As this Court held in Norton v. Penobscot Frozen Food Lockers, Inc., Me., 295 A.2d 32 (1972), section 95 affects only the procedure for making a claim; it does not qualify the substantive right itself. Thus we determined in Norton that an employee's non-compliance with section 95 does not deprive the Commission of jurisdiction to entertain the claim; non-compliance is merely a defense, which may be waived.

Quinn defends the Commissioner's result by arguing that the legislature did not intend the amendment enacted by P.L. 1965, ch. 489 § 8, to apply "retroactively", citing Miller v. Fallon, 134 Me. 145, 183 A. 416 (1936), for the proposition that there is a presumption that legislation applies "prospectively" only. We have applied that principle most recently in Coates v. Maine Employment Security Comm'n, Me., 406 A.2d 94 (1979), where we held that the Employment Security Commission should have applied the disqualification provision of the unemployment compensation statute as it stood when the claimant left her job, not as it had been amended when she filed her claim. Quinn argues ...


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