Autio v. Proksch Const. Co., 9

Decision Date01 June 1965
Docket NumberNo. 9,9
Citation141 N.W.2d 81,377 Mich. 517
PartiesArthur AUTIO, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. PROKSCH CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Defendants-Appellees. ,
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Wisti & Jaaskelainen, by Sterling W. Schrock, Hancock, for plaintiff-appellant.

Humphrey & Weis, Ironwood, for defendants-appellees.

Before the Entire Bench.

SOURIS, Justice.

The workmen's compensation act 1 of this State constitutes a discrete enclave within the law.

'The Workmen's Compensation Law is a departure, by statute, from the common law, and its procedure provisions speak all intended upon the subject. Rights, remedies, and procedure thereunder are such, and such only, as the statute provides. If the statute is short of what it should contain in order to prevent injustice, the defects must be cured by future legislation and not by judicial pronouncement. * * * ' Luyk v. Hertel (1928), 242 Mich. 445, 447, 219 N.W. 721, 722.

The Act provides for limitational periods within which claims must be brought and also provides that the running of such limitational periods shall be tolled until the employer, having timely notice of the employee's injury, files a report of the injury with the workmen's compensation department within a prescribed period. 2 Ordinarily a claim for compensation must be made within six months after the occurrence of the injury, but in the event of physical or mental incapacity to make a claim, within six months after regaining capacity. A three-year limitational period is provided where the 'actual injury, disability, or incapacity' develops more than six months after the injury of which the employer was given notice. Consistent with the principle enunciated in Luyk, supra, and the time limitations contained in the Act, the Court has held that the general statute of limitations 3 has no application to claims brought under the Act. Bankers Trust Co. of Detroit v. Tatti (1932), 258 Mich. 357, 242 N.W. 777, and Jelusich v. Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. (1934), 267 Mich. 313, 319, 255 N.W. 920.

Notwithstanding its nominal acknowledgement that the general statute of limitations is not applicable to workmen's compensation claims, this Court in Hajduk v. Revere Copper & Brass, Inc. (1934), 268 Mich. 220, 255 N.W. 770, nevertheless imposed judicially, by analogy, a six-year limitational period upon such claims. In that case plaintiff employee lost the sight of his left eye in October, 1922, as the result of an industrial accident. The department found that plaintiff had given defendant employer timely notice of the injury, but the latter nonetheless had failed to file a report of compensable injury. In May, 1933, a year after his discharge by defendant, plaintiff filed a claim with the department of labor and industry and was awarded compensation for loss of his eye. Defendant argued that the claim was barred by the general statute of limitations.

The Court said:

'* * * While the general statute of limitations has no application in the instant case because the department of labor and industry is not a court and a proceeding before it is not an action, yet we can conceive of no reason why there should not be a limit of time within which a proceeding for compensation should be commenced. That limit of time must be a reasonable one, which by analogy to the statute of limitations will be deemed to be six years. Cruse v. Chicago, R.I. & P. Ry. Co., 138 Kan. 117, 23 Pac. (2d) 471.' 268 Mich. 220, 223, 255 N.W. 771.

Earlier in its opinion the Court had noted the above cited provision of the Act which, in fact, specified 'a limit of time within which a proceeding for compensation should be commenced.' That limit is referred to in the Act as 'the statute of limitations', a reference the Hajduk Court expressly found meant 'the limitation within the act and not the general statute of limitations', 268 Mich. at 223, 255 N.W. at 771. Moreover, the statute also expressly provided that that time limitation for claiming compensation 'shall not run against the claim of the injured employe or his dependents, or in favor of either said employer or his insurer, until a report of said accident shall have been filed' 3a with the department by the employer in all cases in which the employer has been given timely notice or has knowledge of the happening of the accident. Thus, the legislature not only provided for a time limitation within which a proceeding for compensation must be commenced, a time limitation recognized by the Court in Hajduk, but, also, it provided for the extension of such time limitation so long as an employer with timely notice or knowledge of the happening of the accident failed, neglected or refused to report the accident to the department.

Yet, the Court in Hajduk imposed upon compensation claims a limitational period in addition to that expressly provided by the Act and made it absolute in the sense that the judicially imposed limitational period was not tolled by the employer's failure to file a report of the accident with the department or, apparently, for any other reason. The effect of what the Court did in Hajduk was to write into the Act a limitation upon entitlement to compensation which the legislature, by its tolling provision, had manifested expressly an intention not to impose. If what the Court did it did 'to prevent injustice', a purpose the language of the Court's opinion seems clearly to indicate it had in mind, the Court must have forgotten what it had written earlier in Luyk v. Hertel, supra, about the workmen's compensation law and the respective roles of the legislature and the judiciary in connection therewith.

A majority of the Wisconsin supreme court imposed a similar limitation judicially upon the Wisconsin compensation law in Federal Rubber Company v. Industrial Commission of Wisconsin (1924), 185 Wis. 299, 201 N.W. 261, 40 A.L.R. 491. The persuasive dissent in that case is applicable to Hajduk:

'The old law of master and servant was scrapped as social and economic obsolescence, and was supplanted by a complete and comprehensive scheme for the compensation of industrial accidents. It has not been customary to resort to the old law of master and servant for analogies to aid in the construction of the Workmen's Compensation Act, because that act is based upon principles entirely incompatible with the former law. The framers of the Workmen's Compensation Act expressly provided for two limitations. The logical inference is that they did not intend to provide any further limitations.

'I cannot but regard the decision in this case as a judicial invasion of the legislative field, and I must dissent.' 185 Wis. 299, 303, 201 N.W. 261, 262.

If the Act construed in Hajduk had been ambiguous or if it had omitted reference to a limitational period within which claims for compensation were to be filed, the result reached in Hajduk might have been justifiable in the sense that it would have been an appropriate exercise of the judicial power to construe statutory provisions, but in the face of such clear expression of legislative purpose, what the Court did in Hajduk was completely unjustified. The Court should have approached its task then as it did 16 years earlier when it construed the workmen's compensation law to deny the claim of an injured workman in Cooke v. Holland Furnace Co. (1918) 200 Mich. 192, 166 N.W. 1013. In the Cooke case the Court said:

'* * * We must approach this question, having full regard for the fact that under, the division of powers found in the Constitution, our duty is not to enact, but to expound the law; not to legislate, but to construe legislation, to apply the law as we find it, and to maintain its integrity as it has been written by a co-ordinate branch of the State government. If the the law as written works hardships in a special class of cases, the remedy lies with the branch of the government charged with the duty of enacting laws. If one does not protect himself and his rights under the law as written, it is his misfortune, and this court should not by judicial legislation, for the purpose of relieving that misfortune, write into the statute a provision that the Legislature has not seen fit to enact. * * * ' 200 Mich. 192, 195--196, 166 N.W. 1014.

The Hajduk Court erred not only in its invasion of the legislature's domain, but it erred also by citing as authority for its imposition, by analogy to the general statute of limitations, of a six-year limitational period within which claims for compensation must be filed, the case of Cruse v. Chicago R.I. & P.R. Co. (1933), 138 Kan. 117 (23 P.2d 471). That case is not authority for what our Court did in Hajduk. The Kansas workmen's compensation law referred to a limitational period within which proceedings on a claim had to be begun but, unlike our own workmen's compensation act, the Kansas law neglected to define that period. Thus, there was an ambiguity in the Kansas law which it was appropriate for the Kansas supreme court to clarify by judicial construction and, under those circumstances, there was justification for the Kansas court's reference to Kansas' general statute of limitations for the purpose of defining that period. No such justification, however, existed for this Court's action in Hajduk, the legislature having provided expressly not only for the limitational period but, also, for its tolling.

Unfortunately, Hajduk has been followed subsequently in a number of cases. While it is impossible to tell from the Court's opinion in Hajduk whether the Court then intended its judicially imposed limitational period to be applied to bar all compensation claims made after expiration of six years following the injury or disablement or only to bar compensation benefits which, had earlier claim been made, would have been payable prior to the six-year period preceding filing of the claim. Hajduk has been applied to cases presenting both situations....

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