Legal Corner

Limit of days on light duty upheld by appellate court

In Frazier-White v. David Gee, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 6318 (11th. Cir. 2016), a community service officer for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), who was placed on light duty following a work-related accident, requested an extension of the 270-day light duty limit, which was a policy set by the HCSO. The employee had seen several doctors who put her at Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) with no restrictions and HCSO encouraged a discussion of possible accommodations for her to return to work. When she did not respond, a hearing was held and she was terminated.

She sued under the ADA and the Florida Civil Rights Act alleging disability discrimination. However, the court found that HCSO was not obligated to create a permanent light duty position for her and since every employee is essential for efficient operation eligibility for light-duty status is limited to 270 days during a two-year period.

Takeaway: While courts have generally found that indefinite leave is an unreasonable request, policies that end light duty based either on a specific time limit or on reaching MMI should be flexible enough to consider requests for reasonable accommodation under the ADA or state civil rights law even after the time limit has ended.

Termination for conduct caused by prescription drug side effect did not violate ADA

In Caporicci v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Case No. 8-14-cv-2131-T-36EAJ (M.D. Fla. May 27, 2016), an employee had informed her employer that she was taking prescription drugs for bi-polar disorder. When her medication was changed, she arrived at work in what appeared to be an inebriated state and was acting erratically. The company argued that the conduct violated its Drug and Alcohol Policy, which prohibits any employee from reporting to work or being at work ‘under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or controlled substances.’ The court agreed noting an employer may discipline or terminate an employee for workplace misconduct even when the misconduct is a result of the disability.

Workers’ Compensation
Late IRM is valid – California

In the case California Highway Patrol and SCIF v WCAB (Margaris), the Court of Appeals disagreed with the WCAB and found that, although the Independent Medical Review (IMR) decision was issued thirteen days late, it was valid and binding. According to the court, the 30-day limit in the law is directory and that doctors should make decisions regarding the necessity and appropriateness of medical treatment, not judges.

Comp benefits for transportation accident responder approved – Missouri

A long-term employee of the Missouri Department of Transportation was assigned to respond to only the most serious accidents, many of which involved catastrophic injuries, dismemberment and death. After working more than 1,000 cases, she began to suffer from significant emotional and psychological symptoms such as panic attacks, mood swings, and insomnia. She filed a claim for workers comp benefits for mental injuries and disability. A law judge found she failed to prove that she suffered “extraordinary and unusual work-related stress when compared to similarly-situated employees.” However, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission reversed the judge’s decision and was affirmed by the Missouri Court of Appeals. It noted that a 2005 amendment to the state’s workers’ comp act made it so workers were not required to prove the “extraordinary and unusual” nature of their work.

No comp for investigator claiming PTSD – New York

A senior investigator at the sheriff’s office alleged he developed post-traumatic stress disorder due to highly stressful work situations. These situations included a 10-hour hostage standoff with an armed suspect, his partner and the chief of police committing suicide, and no debriefing of any of these incidents. However, medical reports attributed the worker’s psychiatric condition to the dissolution of his marriage and undermined his claim. Orange County Sheriffs Office, 116 NYWCLR 41 (N.Y. W.C.B., Panel 2016)

Court approves comp for employee who denied hearing supervisor’s instructions – North Carolina

In Keaton v. ERMC III, the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the state industrial commission’s decision that while disobedience to an order by a supervisor breaks the causal relation between employment and injury, in this case, the maintenance worker never heard the instructions. Along with others, the worker responded to an emergency call to help clean up water and debris from a sprinkler head that had burst open. After most of the work was done the supervisor said not to touch the hanging fluorescent light, which was energized and left for a lunch break. Concerned for other people’s safety, the worker attempted to remove the light but suffered an electrical shock and fell off the ladder, fracturing his ankle. While a co-worker heard the supervisor, the court believed that the maintenance worker did not.

Intoxication leads to denial of comp claim – North Carolina

In the North Carolina Court of Appeals case of Diaz v. Spanish Contractors, a subcontractor fell off a ladder and suffered numerous serious injuries. The employer denied the claim, arguing that the worker was not an employee and was drunk at the time of his fall. While it was determined that an employer-employee relationship existed at the time of the accident, the blood-alcohol level at the time of injury was the proximate cause of his injuries and he was not entitled to collect workers’ compensation benefits.

Worker attacked by co-worker entitled to benefits – Pennsylvania

In Cruz v. Cutone Mushrooms, the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board affirmed the workers’ compensation judge’s finding that a mushroom picker was in the course and scope of his employment when he was stabbed by a coworker. While on break the picker went to a coworker’s residence, located on the employer’s property, to talk about a work-related dispute and was attacked.

Medical expert’s testimony must be persuasive – Pennsylvania

In IA Construction Corp. and Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. WCAB (Rhodes), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed a decision by the Commonwealth Court and held that a WCJ’s rejection of the expert medical opinion of the IRE physician was authorized where the WCJ found the IRE’s opinion was underdeveloped and out-of-specialty. In the decision, the court emphasized that with regard to expert medical testimony, one should not conflate the qualifications of the expert with the persuasiveness of the expert’s testimony.

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