Western Water Works v. Industrial Commission of Arizona – 10/17/2006

October 26, 2006

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds that Parties May be Joined in Timely-Filed Workers’ Compensation Case after Limitations Period has Run.

A worker was injured by a passing vehicle while working on a road construction project. He filed a worker’s compensation claim, which was accepted for benefits by the Special Fund Division/No Insurance Section. His employer – the subcontractor on the project – protested, and a hearing was scheduled before the Industrial Commission of Arizona. The Special Fund filed a motion to join general contractor Western Water Works Contracting, Inc. (“Western”) as the worker’s statutory employer. The Administrative Law Judge granted the motion, and Western appealed, arguing that joinder was improper because the one-year statute of limitations for workers’ compensation claims (A.R.S. § 23-1061(A)) had expired by the time its joinder was sought. The Division One panel first rejected the Special Fund’s argument that the appeal of the joinder order was premature, citing its statutory authority to review an “award” issued by the Industrial Commission. A.R.S. § 23-951(A). The Court next addressed the statute of limitations argument, focusing on the joinder rule set forth in Arizona Administrative Code R20-5-150f, which allows joinder of a party “over whom the [Industrial] Commission may acquire jurisdiction.” Western argued that jurisdiction over it was improper after the limitations period had run. The Special Fund argued that jurisdiction over additional parties was proper as long as the initial claim was timely filed. The Court held that the plain language of Section 23-1061(A) supported the Special Fund’s interpretation, and that the joinder was proper.

The decision was authored by Judge Hall and joined by Judges Barker and Gemmill.