Legal Corner

ADA
Bank pays $700,000 for inflexible disability policy

A bank has agreed to pay $700,000 to settle an EEOC lawsuit for violating the ADA. Hudson City Savings Bank, which merged into Wilmington Trust Co., a subsidiary of Buffalo, New York-based M&T Bank Corp. in 2015, had a long-standing inflexible policy of placing employees with impairment or disabilities on involuntary leave or discharging them until it received a medical provider’s clearance to return to work with no restrictions.

Disability discrimination case of health worker who refused vaccine dismissed

In Janice Hustvet v. Allina Health System, a unit of Minneapolis-based Allina Health System merged with Courage Center in Minneapolis. Allina required Courage Center employees who had patient contact to get a vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella as part of a preplacement health assessment screen. An independent living skills specialist refused noting she had many allergies and chemical sensitivities.

When she was fired, she filed a disability discrimination suit under the ADA. The court found that the requirement to undergo a health screen was job-related and consistent with a business necessity. Further, there was insufficient evidence that her chemical sensitivities or allergies substantially or materially limit her ability to perform major life activities.

Workers’ Compensation
Apportionment for pre-existing, asymptomatic conditions allowed – California

In City of Petaluma v. WCAB (Lindh), a police officer suffered head injuries during a training exercise, experienced headaches and lost vision in his left eye. A medical assessment determined that he had a pre-existing vascular condition that predisposed him to a loss of eyesight. While an administrative law judge and the WCAB granted a 40% permanent disability without apportionment, the 1st District Court of Appeal noted statutes provide that permanent disability must be apportioned based on causation, as long as there is substantial medical evidence that the disability was caused, in part, by nonindustrial factors. The condition does not have to manifest itself; an asymptomatic condition, means a condition that is present but for which there aren’t any symptoms.

The court therefore ordered the case sent back to the board to issue an award apportioning 85% of Lindh’s disability to his pre-existing condition, and 15% to his industrial injury.

Workers’ fraud means carrier can seek modification of benefits – Florida

Florida’s statute allows a judge of compensation claims to change benefits if there is a change in condition or if there was a mistake in a determination of fact. In U.S. Fire Insurance Co. v. Hackett, the carrier had been paying for around-the-clock attendant care provided by the husband and daughter of the injured worker. Over 25 years after the accident, the injured worker stopped seeing her treating doctor.

The carrier then conducted surveillance and found she was not receiving all the attendant care for which they were paying and questioned the need for continued care. While a judge agreed that the husband and daughter were deceiving the carrier, she denied the carrier’s petition for modification, reasoning that the evidence established fraud, not a change in medical condition. She also stated she did not have the authority to compel an IME. The Court of Appeal for the 1st District disagreed and reversed the decision.

Injured worker cannot sue third party – Illinois

In A&R Janitorial v. Pepper Construction Co.; Teresa Mroczko, an employee of a janitorial service was cleaning an office building. At the same time, a subcontractor was replacing carpets and a desk that had been placed in an upright position fell and injured the custodian. She collected workers’ comp benefits from her employer, but did not file a timely personal injury action against the construction company.

Under Illinois law, if a worker does not file a personal injury action, her employer can. While the litigation was pending, the worker filed her own action, but was denied as untimely. Later, she filed a petition to intervene in her employer’s case. While a judge denied the petition, the Appellate Court reversed and the case went to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court reversed on res judicata grounds – the matter had already been adjudicated by a competent court and may not be pursued further by the same parties.

Temporary staffing employee cannot sue assembly plant – Indiana

An employee of a temporary staffing agency was assigned to work in an assembly plant. When her hand was crushed by a punch press and a finger was severed, she collected workers’ comp from her employer, the temporary staffing agency. Later she filed suit against the assembly plant, claiming negligence.

The assembly plant argued that it was immune from civil liability since the worker was an employee and the courts agreed. The Indiana statute provides “a lessor and a lessee of employees shall each be considered joint employers of the employees provided by the lessor to the lessee.”

Attorney’s text message to IME does not bar medical report and testimony – New York

In Robert G. Knapp v. Bette & Cring LLC, Workers’ Compensation Board, a divided appellate court ruled that the Workers’ Compensation Board erred in barring the introduction of the IME’s report and testimony at a later hearing because the attorney sent a text message to the physician and not the opposing counsel.

The message requested an update on the loss of use of the worker’s left foot, which had been determined at 40.5% for comp benefits. Following the exam, the IME found an 88% scheduled loss and the Board reopened the case. The Board credited the employer’s physician’s report and awarded a 50% loss, precluding the IME’s report.

In overturning the decision, the appellate court noted the message ‘appears to be a limited communication’ and did not reflect an effort to influence the physician’s testimony or opinion.

Injured employee can continue medication beyond its recommended short-term use – New York

In Matter of Byrnes v. New Island Hospital, an appellate court ruled that an injured nurse could continue use of Amrix, a muscle relaxant, which is recommended for only short-term use on the board’s Non-Acute Pain Management Guidelines, but which she had been using for over 16 years. The injured worker’s doctors argued that the medication, in combination with other therapies, allowed her to perform the activities of daily living and to continue working as a nurse and the effects of the drug vary by individual.

The court supported the board’s finding that the medication was medically necessary.

Additional compensation awards subject to durational limits – New York

In Mancini v. Office of Children and Family Services, the state’s highest court ruled the additional compensation awards permissible under Section 15 (3) (v) of the Workers’ Compensation Law are subject to the durational limits set out under Section 15(3)(w) – those for workers with non-schedule injuries. The ruling is a continuation of the state’s trend toward caps on benefits that started with the 2007 reforms.

Supreme Court overturns compensability award based on preexisting condition – North Carolina

In Pine v. Walmart Associates, a long-time employee fell and was released to return to work, but continued to experience pain. A few months later, imaging revealed nerve damage and she filed a workers’ compensation claim. Walmart accepted liability for the right shoulder and arm injuries, but denied liability for the condition of her cervical spine as well as other injuries, since she had a pre-existing degenerative disc disease.

The Industrial Commission found her injuries and subsequent pain were the result of the earlier fall and were compensable based on the Parson’s presumption that injured workers should not be required to prove their need for treatment was related to the original injury every time they seek further medical care. While noting the commission applied the incorrect standard in determining compensability, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

While this was under appeal, legislation was enacted that amended the statute, Section 97-82(b), to clarify that the Parsons presumption applies only to the specific injury that was accepted on a Form 60. Since the statute was applicable to all cases not yet resolved, the worker was not entitled to a presumption that her other conditions were compensable. Further, it was unclear if the commission made findings of causation independent of the application of the presumption; therefore, the decision had to be set aside.

Petition for civil contempt cannot compel interest payments on benefits delayed while employer appealed award – Missouri

In Smith v. Capital Region Medical Center, a widow was awarded benefits for the death of her husband. When the employer appealed the award, there was a delay of about 1.5 years before the Court of Appeals affirmed it. The widow filed a petition for civil contempt to compel the employer to pay the interest owed, but the court noted Section 511.340 prohibits the use of civil contempt to enforce the mere payment of money.

First employer liable for reoccurrence of injury of worker hired through labor union – Nebraska

In Weyerman v. Freeman Expositions, a stagehand was a member of a local union. The union had a collective agreement with Complete Payroll, which was considered the employer of members of Local 42 when they worked on its jobs, but the union also had agreements with other companies, including Freeman Expositions, which specified it was the “employer” when union members were working on its jobs.

The stagehand was injured while working for Freeman and the treating doctor cleared him to return to work in about a week. Complete Payroll sent the worker to another job, but he was unable to perform because of back pain. Then he was cleared to return to work, but did not go back and began seeing another doctor and filed for workers’ compensation.

The workers’ compensation court found he suffered an injury to his back while working for Freeman Expositions and that he suffered a recurrence of the injury several weeks later and he had not reached MMI. While the Court of Appeals acknowledged conflicting evidence, it affirmed the decision that Freeman was liable for both injuries.

Question of disability limits benefits for daughter with incurable eye disease – Pennsylvania

In Aqua America v. WCAB (Jeffers), a worker was killed in an auto accident, leaving behind a wife and four children. Under the law, payment of benefits to minor children continue until they reach the age of 18 and beyond, if they have a disability.

His daughter suffers from an incurable, progressive eye disease, which will eventually leave her legally blind. The widow sought dependency benefits that would continue after her daughter turned 18.

While a workers’ compensation judge and the Workers’ Compensation Board approved the daughter’s benefits beyond the age of 18, until the employer could prove she was capable of self-support, the Commonwealth Court overturned. It noted disability involves “not merely physical impairment, but loss of earning power” and there was no evidence regarding loss of earning power.

Patient’s ulcer not attributable to pain medications – Tennessee

In Steak N Shake v. Yeager, a restaurant worker suffered serious injuries in a fall and was given prescriptions for several pain medications. A week after his fall, he returned to the hospital complaining of weakness, dizziness and chest pain and a doctor posited that the ulcer was likely caused by the combination of meds. The Department of Labor ordered the restaurant to pay for his care.

His hospital bill was over $48,000 and the restaurant contested it by filing a civil suit against the worker. In so doing, they obtained admissions that the worker had taken more meds than prescribed and he consumed an average of three ounces of liquor daily. While a trial judge upheld the award, the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel reversed and the Supreme Court upheld the Panel’s decision not to award benefits.

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