On June 7, the Individual Disputes Section (SDI) of the Superior Labor Court (TST) decided to apply the three-year statute of limitations for civil suits in a suit filed by a deceased employee's family seeking damages caused by the death of the family member due to a workplace accident or occupational disease.[1]

The decision came to resolve the divergence of understandings among the circuit courts regarding the statute of limitations applicable in such cases: whether the one provided for in labor law or whether that of civil law.

According to the Justices of the SDI, in suits in which the successors seek, in their own name, moral or material damages resulting from the death of a family member due to an accident at work or an alleged occupational disease, labor rights of the former employee are not at issue, but rather the civil rights of the family members, whose injury originates in alleged wrongful acts committed by the employer of the deceased, albeit in a reflexive or indirect manner. For this reason, the statute of limitations applicable is three years, provided for in article 206, paragraph 3, item V, of the Civil Code.

On the other hand, the TST defined that, in suits in which the successors plead payment of compensation for damages caused to the deceased in the course of the employment relationship, because it is an action seeking compensation for damages suffered by the deceased, the debate is labor in nature, for which reason the position to be take is that the labor statute of limitations applies, which is two years as of the termination of the employment contract, per the terms of item XXIX, article 7, of the Federal Constitution.

With this understanding, the TST affirms that, although the jurisdiction for trying and adjudicating such suits is that of the labor courts by virtue of Constitutional Amendment No. 45/2004 and the final part of Precedent No. 392 of the Superior Labor Court, the substantive right in dispute is of a civil nature and, therefore, the statute of limitations is that provided for in civil law.

The recent decision handed down by the SDI of the Superior Labor Court points to a consolidation of the position of the highest labor court and certainly constitutes a precedent for decisions in cases similar to the one decided.

Considering that the understanding of some circuit labor courts is still that, for all matters within the jurisdiction of the labor courts, the limitations period for filing suit is the labor limitations period (two years), the recent decision by the SDI may generate impacts for the business community in similar situations that have not yet been reviewed by the Superior Labor Court.

Since this is a constitutional matter (whether or not the labor statute of limitations provided for in the Federal Constitution applies), the matter may still be discussed before the Federal Supreme Court.

1. Case No. 10248-50.2016.5.03.0165, published on June 15, 2018.