Court clarifies ADA website accessibility obligations
When the ADA was enacted, Congress did not anticipate the role of the Internet and focused on physical access barriers. Title III does not provide guidance for the Internet or web-based and mobile applications, but it does not limit coverage to brick-and mortar locations or exclude online locations. As a result, there have been a number of lawsuits and the decisions are split regarding whether Title III’s definition of “public accommodations” is limited to physical spaces.
For the first time, a U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled on this issue in Robles v. Domino’s Pizza. The Ninth Circuit held that Domino’s violated Title III of the ADA because its website’s incompatibility with screen reader software impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises, which are places of public accommodation.
Critical to the decision was the nexus between Domino’s website and app and physical restaurants. While technically this ruling only applies to states covered by the Ninth Circuit, it reflects a nationwide trend and the DOJ’s position that businesses should make websites accessible to disabled individuals by relying on a set of private industry standards, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium.
Timeliness of denial of benefits clarified – Florida
Florida statutes allow an employer to pay benefits to a worker while investigating his claim, for up to 120 days. An employer waives the right to deny compensability unless it can establish material facts that it could not have discovered through reasonable investigation within the 120-day period.
In Rente v. Orange County BOCC, the employer issued a notice of denial eight months after the injury. A judge allowed the denial, finding the injured worker had made misstatements to the spine surgeon about his prior symptoms and treatment to his low back, which was the proximate cause of delay in the employer’s decision to contest his claim. However, the 1st District Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, noting the judge needed to make a determination of when the employer had material facts regarding the issue of causation and compensability, which would trigger the employer’s 120-day period to commence an investigation and either accept or deny his claim.
Workers’ comp settlement does not bar recovery in tort suit – Illinois
In Armstead v. Nat’l Freight, Inc., a semi-truck driver for a Pennsylvania corporation sustained injuries in a vehicular accident with a National Freight truck in Grundy County. The Pennsylvania work comp settlement described his injury as a knee strain and noted its terms did not bar subsequent third-party action against various defendants for injuries he alleged he sustained to his back and shoulder.
He also sued National Freight and the driver, but they argued he could not present evidence of injuries other than to his knee, since the settlement said that it was his only injury. An appellate court reversed the circuit court’s grant of partial summary judgment and remanded for further proceeding, noting a statement could not be considered a judicial admission when it was made in the course of another proceeding and could not be used to bar his tort claim.
No extra benefits for worker who did not seek job rehab services – Illinois
In Euclid Beverage v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission et al., a long-term worker in the beverage distribution industry injured his back and was terminated because he could not be accommodated on light duty. He received temporary total disability, maintenance, and permanent partial disability benefits.
Shortly after his termination, he was offered a job that did not rely on physical ability, but he declined to interview. A few years later, the employer filed for review and the Circuit Court overturned the award for maintenance benefits, “finding that the record did not demonstrate that the claimant participated in a vocational rehabilitation program or (a) self-directed job search.” State law only mandates that an employer pay maintenance benefits if an injured worker was or is enrolled in a vocational rehabilitation program.
Worker must show disability made it impossible to secure work – New York
In Matter of Figueroa v Consolidated Edison Co. of N.Y., Inc, an office assistant who worked for approximately 41 years began to experience pain in her hands and wrists and filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Shortly thereafter, she retired from her position at the age of 59.
Three years later she began efforts to reenter the job market, attending an orientation session, taking classes on preparing a résumé and cover letter to assist her in finding a job and subsequently submitting job applications to various retail companies. The employer challenged the Board’s award of benefits during the time period she had reattached to the labor market. The court agreed that she had to demonstrate her inability to obtain work was due to her causally-related disability, as opposed to her age, economic conditions or other factors. It found the Board’s decision to award claimant wage replacement benefits during the period of her labor market reattachment was not supported by substantial evidence.
Worker’s estate entitled only to portion of posthumous schedule loss of use award – New York
In Matter of Estate of Youngjohn v Berry Plastics Corp., an appellate court noted that when an injured employee dies without leaving a surviving spouse, child under 18 years old or dependent, only that portion of the employee’s schedule loss of use (“SLU”) award that had accrued at the time of the death is payable to the estate. That rule applies even when the SLU award is posthumous.
Temporary worker cannot maintain tort suit against borrowing employer – New York
In Ferguson v. National Gypsum, a temporary worker was injured while working for National Gypsum and filed suit seeking damages. The Appellate Division’s 4th Department found the claim was barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers’ Compensation Law based on the special employer concept. Since National had complete and exclusive control over the manner, details and results of the injured worker’s work, the court said the company was his special employer and enjoyed immunity from civil liability.
Family of worker killed cannot sue in civil court – North Carolina
An appeals court ruled that workers’ comp is the only recourse for a family of a mechanic crushed to death while repairing a machine at a plywood manufacturing plant. The deceased was hired by a staffing agency, but the manufacturer controlled the worker’s day-to-day work activities, controlled the work the worker performed and paid him an hourly wage. Therefore, the plywood manufacturer was the worker’s special employer and it could not be liable in a wrongful death action. – Estate of Belk v. Boise Cascade Wood Prods., L.L.C.
Superior court judges have broad discretion in review of attorney fees – North Carolina
Overturning a decision by the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court noted that superior court judges have broad discretion to review the reasonableness of an attorney fee award provided by the state Industrial Commission. In Saunders v. ADP Totalsource Fi Xi, the court noted that under state law, the commission must approve a fee for an attorney in a workers’ compensation case. However, if the attorney disagrees with the commission’s decision, he/she can seek a review by a superior court judge.
Parent company not liable for death of subsidiary’s employee – Pennsylvania
In Grimsley v. Manitowoc Co. Inc., a worker was killed when he was pinned between two cranes. The employer, Grove U.S., LLC, was fined by OSHA and the widow received workers’ comp benefits. Later, she filed a wrongful death and survival action asserting negligence and strict liability against the parent company, Manitowoc Co., arguing the crane was owned by Manitowoc and branded with its logo.
The U.S. District Court granted summary judgment to the employer, parent company, and several other subsidiaries finding Grove was entitled to the exclusive remedy provision under the Workers’ Compensation Act and Manitowoc did not exercise significant control over Grove to establish liability.
Benefits continue for worker released to full duty – Pennsylvania
In an unreported case, Heartland Employment Services, LLC v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Ebner), a worker suffered a significant injury to the lumbar spine, including a herniated disc and lumbar radiculopathy and had spinal fusion surgery. The medical treatment was successful, and the injured worker was released back to work, without restriction.
The employer argued that an ability to work without restrictions mandates a finding of full recovery and termination of benefits. However, the court noted, “Employer appears to conflate the diagnosis of full recovery from a work injury with a physician’s release to return to work without restrictions. While Claimant was capable of returning to work, the WCJ found she had not recovered from the effects of her work injury.” As such, the WCJ did not err in granting benefits for medical expenses with wage loss benefits suspended upon Claimant’s return to work.
No comp benefits despite failure to use on-site defibrillator – Tennessee
In Chaney v. Team Techs, the Supreme Court, reversing a decision of a state trial court, found an employer isn’t liable for workers’ compensation benefits because they failed to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) that was available to help an employee who was suffering from a non-employment related medical emergency. Although the court noted that under the state’s emergency doctrine, an employer can be liable for benefits if it failed to render reasonable medical aid to an employee who had become helpless at work, the employer had called emergency responders and the doctrine could not be extended to require an employer to utilize an AED.
The first responders were able to revive the worker who collapsed because of a heart condition, but she suffered a permanent brain injury because of a lack of oxygen to her brain and sought workers’ comp benefits. While the employee’s injury had occurred in the course of the employment injury, it did not arise out of the employment.
Subrogation lien cannot include nurse case management expenses – Tennessee
In Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division v. Watson, a case of first impression, the Court of Appeals ruled that nurse case management fees are not recoverable as part of an employer’s workers’ compensation subrogation lien. A meter reader suffered injuries when she was attacked by a dog and received workers’ compensation benefits. She also settled a tort claim for $80,000.
Since the court had never decided whether an employer’s statutory subrogation lien extends to nurse case management fees, it considered an Illinois decision in which the cost of services for a “medical rehabilitation coordinator” had been excluded from the subrogation amount.
The court concluded that such fees are not included in a lien, since the provision of case management services is not mandatory and is for the benefit of an employer, not the worker.
Requirements for workers to receive additional PPD benefits clarified by Supreme Court – Tennessee
In Batey v. Deliver This Inc., a delivery driver injured his back and underwent surgery. Under Tennessee law, when a worker reaches maximum medical improvement for a compensable injury and receives a permanent medical impairment rating, they receive an “original award” of permanent disability benefits. There are various provisions for increasing this amount if the worker does not return to work when the award ends.
A trial court determined that he was entitled to 275 more weeks of permanent partial disability benefits. Although the WCAB found errors in “defining an employee’s burden of proof” and in defining the phrase “employee’s pre-injury occupation,” it noted the errors were harmless and the Supreme Court agreed. Both the appeals court and the state Supreme Court, however, denied a motion for prejudgment interest on his claim, citing the exclusive remedy provision in the comp law.
Violation of safety rule nixes benefits – Virginia
In Jones v. Crothall Laundry, a team leader at a commercial laundry entered a fenced area through an unapproved opening, instead of through the approved interlock gate that would have deactivated machinery inside the fence. An appellate court affirmed a finding by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission that the employee’s action constituted a violation of a known safety rule, that the violation was the proximate cause of his serious injury to a leg, and that the worker, therefore, could not recover workers’ compensation benefits. The employer had proved the rule was reasonable, for the benefit of the employee, that it was known, the employee intentionally breached the rule, and the breach was the cause of his injury.
Injured worker who was left quadriplegic ineligible for benefits – Virginia
The Supreme Court affirmed an earlier ruling that denied workers’ compensation benefits to a worker injured while rehabbing a historic school building, finding the man was hired by an unlicensed contractor and was not an employee of the church and historical society that were restoring the building.
The court noted that the statute holds a party liable for the payment of workers’ compensation benefits if it has hired another to perform work that is “a part of his trade, business or occupation.” While the historical society was formed to restore the school, the court reasoned that “its trade, business or occupation did not include the complete reconstruction of the building.”
Court reverses denial of benefits to employee assaulted by coworker – Virginia
In King v. DTH Contract Services Inc., the Workers Compensation Commission denied an employee’s workers’ compensation claims for injuries he sustained when he was stabbed at work by a former co-worker, finding that the motive of the attack was relevant in determining if the injury arose out of employment. The employee worked as an overnight rest area attendant and a former employee stabbed him in the eyes with a screwdriver when he was on his way back to the office after a safety check. The assailant committed suicide and the motive was never determined.
Upon appeal, the worker argued his employment placed him at a greater risk of assault than the risk faced by the general public. The court remanded the case back to the Commission, noting other cases in the state have found that when an assailant’s motive is unknown, an injured worker does not have to affirmatively establish that the assailant’s motive was not personal. Further, it was an error to treat the motive as the only relevant issue.
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