Ramiro Zapata Jimenez was injured on May 19, 2003 at work. He filed a timely workers’ compensation claim on August 1, 2003 naming Luis Aragon, an uninsured contractor, as the employer. Zapata sustained injury to his head, brain, right knee, internal system, and urinary tract and is totally and permanently disabled.
Aragon was refurbishing an apartment complex located in Long Beach for the owner of the complex, Marco Bolanos. Aragon was a licensed contractor but his workers’ compensation insurance had lapsed on April 9, 2002. Aragon filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
Bolanos did not recall whether he asked Aragon if he had workers’ compensation insurance when Bolanos hired Aragon to refurbish the apartment complex. Bolanos did not inquire with the Contractors State License Board about the status of Aragon’s license.
On August 26, 2003, Zapata’s counsel sent a letter to Bolanos notifying him of Zapata’s injury. This letter was Bolanos’ first notice of Zapata’s accident and injury. Bolanos did not reply to the letter and did not at any time after the accident provide a claim form to Zapata.
Upon confirming Aragon’s uninsured status from the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau on August 28, 2003, Zapata joined the UEBTF as a defendant on February 26, 2004.
The WCJ, on the UEBTF’s motion, joined Bolanos as a party defendant on June 17, 2009, six years after the accident occurred. Bolanos raised the statute of limitations and laches as defenses.
Zapata also sued Bolanos in a civil action in 2011, represented by the same attorney who represented him in the workers’ compensation proceeding. The Superior Court sustained Bolanos’s demurrer without leave to amend in 2012 based on the statute of limitations.
The WCJ issued findings and an award on July 31, 2015 and found Bolanos to be the ultimate employer of Zapata because Aragon was both uninsured and unlicensed by operation of law. The WCJ rejected the statute of limitations defense. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board in a split decision, held that the statute of limitations was tolled. The Court of Appeal reversed in the unpublished opinion of Bolanos v WCAB.
Labor Code 5405 provides that a workers’ compensation claim must be filed one year after the date of injury. A new defendant cannot be added after the statute of limitations has run. (McGee Street Productions v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (2003) 108 Cal.App.4th 717, 724-725 (McGee).) “The general rule is well settled that, when new parties are brought in by amendment, the statute of limitations continues to run in their favor until thus made parties. The suit cannot be considered as having been commenced against them until they are made parties.” (Ingram v. Department of Industrial Relations (1930) 208 Cal. 633, 643; see also McGee, supra, 108 Cal.App.4th at pp. 724-726.)
The statute of limitations is tolled if the employee is unaware of his right to file a workers’ compensation claim. Zapata was not ignorant of his right to apply for benefits under the workers’ compensation laws for this injury, as demonstrated by his filing a workers’ compensation claim on August 1, 2003. After that date, there was no need for a claim form and “notice of potential eligibility for benefits.” (Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, supra, 39 Cal.3d at pp. 64-65, § 5401.) Nor was there any reason for tolling the statute of limitations after that date.