Legal Corner

ADA 
Trucking firm settles suit over pre-employment screenings

Greeley, Colorado-based JBS Carriers Inc., which is the transportation affiliate of multinational meat processor JBS USA Holdings Inc., contracted with a third-party administrator, Denver-based ErgoMed Systems, to administer pre-employment screenings. The EEOC found that all applicants were subjected to a medical history questionnaire, a physical examination and nine physical abilities tests, and if an applicant failed any one of the tests, ErgoMed sent a negative job recommendation to JBS, which withdrew conditional job offers based on its recommendations.

The EEOC alleged this process unlawfully screened out people with disabilities and reached a $250,000 settlement with JBS. Under terms of the settlement, JBS will not contract with ErgoMed for three years and not implement any physical or medical screening for conditional hires apart from the DOT medical certification and urine analysis, among other provisions.

Perceived disability sufficient to reinstate suit

In Jonathan C. Baum v. Metro Restoration Services, an employee who worked as a scheduler for Louisville, Kentucky-based Metro Restoration Services Inc., began having heart problems and occasionally missed work for medical concerns. After a severe weather hit in 2015, he worked remotely to coordinate crews. He was fired a week later and the company’s owner told him it was because of his health issues and doctors’ appointments.

He filed suit, charging he was fired both because he was disabled and because the company regarded him as disabled. A lower court dismissed the case because he did not present an expert witness, but an appellate court found a jury could find that Metro fired him because the owner thought he was disabled, and reinstated the case.

Workers’ Compensation 
Widow loses civil suit based on “power press” exception to exclusive remedy – California

In Ochoa v. Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc., a widow of a man who died when another worker accidentally started the machine he was maintaining filed a wrongful death suit, arguing the machine was a power press that, under certain conditions, can be exempt from exclusive remedy. The court agreed with the defendants that the machine in question was a conveyor-style “auger” and not a press that used a die. A product liability claim was also rejected.

Sawmill pays $375,000 in settlement of civil suit related to workers’ death – California

Morgan Hill-based Pacific States Industries Inc., doing business as Redwood Empire Sawmill, was sued by the district attorney following the death of a millworker, who died in a bark conveyor that the employees regularly walked on while they were unjamming it. The DA’s office investigation found a culture of production over safety at the mill and that the sawmill and its two other facilities in Sonoma County did not have written procedures for employees to work on, unjam or clean machinery and equipment.

Secondary treatment issues clarified – California

In a panel decision, Pena v. Aqua Systems, it was clarified that secondary treatment requests do not have to be initiated by the PTP and that selection of a secondary treater is not subject to Utilization Review (UR) and, therefore, does not require a Request for Authorization (RFA). Failure to promptly respond to and approve secondary treatment requests is likely to result in a penalty assessment.

Six-month limit on mental injuries upheld – Florida

In Kneer v. Lincare & Travelers Ins., an appellate court ruled that an employee was not eligible for benefits for psychiatric injuries because they occurred more than a year after he had reached MMI on his back injury. The court said the claim for temporary benefits for the mental condition was untimely because there is a six-month limitation for temporary benefits for psychiatric injuries (which follow a physical injury).

Remote workers beware: trip over dog not compensable – Florida

In a 12-2 decision, Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, an appeals court reversed the decision of a workers’ compensation judge. Working in Arizona, a home-based workers’ comp claims adjuster tripped over one of her two dogs, causing her to fall and sustain injuries to her knee, hip and shoulder as she was getting coffee in her kitchen. The court noted that there are limitations to the “arising out of” rule when risks unrelated to work lead to the injury. In this case, her non-employment life (her dog, her kitchen, reaching for a coffee cup) caused the accident, not her employment.

“One Day Rest in Seven” can’t circumvent exclusive remedy – Illinois

In Webster v. FirstExpress, Inc., a federal district court held that the state’s “One Day Rest in Seven Act” may not be used to circumvent the exclusive remedy of the Workers’ Compensation Act. An employee of a tire service company was killed in a collision with a vehicle owned by FirstExpress, Inc. It was argued that the worker had been required to work mandatory overtime and failed to get a full day of rest as called for in the statute. However, the court ruled that the employer was immune from tort liability because its actions did not rise to the level of “specific intent” to harm.

High court clarifies application of treatment guidelines – Minnesota

In Johnson v. Darchuks Fabrication, an employee was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome following a work-related incident. As part of the settlement, the company paid for ongoing medical expenses, which included over ten years of opioids. The employee was asked to go through a fourth IME, and for the first time, the medical examiner expressed doubt about the diagnosis. As a result, the company notified the employee it was discontinuing coverage for the medication. It argued the complex regional pain syndrome had been resolved and that the long-term opioid use did not comply with the workers’ compensation treatment parameters.

The case found its way to the Supreme Court and the company argued that the treatment parameters applied in this case. The court agreed, noting the treatment parameters do not apply when liability for the benefits has been denied, but a challenge to the reasonableness and necessity of treatment is not a denial of liability. It ordered the case remanded for further proceedings.

PPD award for fall in employer’s parking garage affirmed – Missouri

In McDowell v. St. Luke’s Hosp., an appellate court affirmed a decision by the state’s Labor and Industrial Relations Commission awarding workers’ compensation benefits to an employee who fell while bringing her belongings from the garage to her work station. While the state statute generally means benefits are denied when the hazard or risk is one to which the worker would have been “equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal nonemployment life,” the court found that her fall was the result of her need to pull and maneuver a two-wheeled cart containing work-related supplies through a congested entryway and, therefore, was compensable. She did not face such a hazard in her non-employment life.

The worker, who had worked for the hospital for 45 years, had undergone a hip replacement and used a cane. The hospital had provided her with the two-wheeled cart to transport her belongings from the garage during her recovery.

No survivor benefits for daughter of deputy killed in car crash while exchanging shift information on his cell phone – Nebraska

In Coughlin v County of Colfax, a deputy sheriff was driving home and on his cell phone exchanging shift information with another officer who just came on duty when his vehicle hit a deer’s carcass. He lost control of the car, collided with another vehicle driving in the opposite lane of traffic, and died.

His brother filed a workers’ comp claim, which was denied based on the going and coming rule. The course and scope of employment had not been expanded by the cell phone conversation, in spite of its work-relatedness. It was determined that he was in his personal vehicle and off duty at the time of the accident.

An appellate court considered whether the cell phone communication was an employer-created condition that rendered the going and coming rule inapplicable. It found that although the Department expected the deputy to exchange shift-change information, it did not prescribe any one way of doing so and, in fact, had a cellphone policy that prohibited using a cell phone while driving a county-owned vehicle. The denial was affirmed.

Appellate court overturns decision to disqualify worker from future benefits – New York

In Matter of Persons v Halmar Intl, an appellate court overturned a decision by the Workers’ Compensation Board that disqualified an injured construction laborer from receiving future wage replacement benefits because he made false statements about his physical condition in violation of the law. The appellate court found that the Board’s findings based on video footage of his work as a volunteer firefighter and another video were inaccurate and could not be ascertained without further medical testimony. Further, the worker had acknowledged and disclosed his work as a volunteer firefighter.

The court concluded, “Simply put, our review of the record reflects that the Board’s decision [was] not supported by substantial evidence as it [was] based upon speculation, surmise and mischaracterizations.”

Law barring undocumented workers from additional benefits upheld by high court – Tennessee

The Supreme Court ruled that a state statute limiting the benefits available to a worker without legal authorization to work in the United States is not pre-empted by federal immigration law. The case, Salvador Sandoval V Mark Williamson, involved an undocumented worker for Tennessee Steel Structure who was injured on the job and received PPD benefits. He did not return to work after benefits ended and filed for additional benefits, but state law precludes benefits for anyone who is not eligible or authorized to work legally in the US.

The worker argued the law was unconstitutional because it was pre-empted by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The Supreme Court concurred with the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel that the law does not conflict with any provision of the IRCA.

Attempt to guide hand truck does not constitute “lifting” in violation of safety rules – Virginia

In Snelling Staffing/Chesapeake & Ace Am. Ins. Co. v. Edwards, the employer argued that an employee violated a known rule that prohibited lifting more than 40 pounds without assistance when he was injured. The worker and a co-worker stacked three boxes of computers, each weighing approximately 120 pounds, on a hand truck. When the worker attempted to pull back on the truck, the weight shifted and he tried to steady it with his leg, injuring his back.

The appellate court agreed with the Commission that the employee’s actions did not constitute “lifting” in violation of employer’s safety rule.

Police officer’s slip on the grass not compensable – Virginia

In Conner v. City of Danville, a police officer was part of a surveillance team at a duplex and was interviewing a homicide suspect outside with a colleague. Rain turned to hail and a tornado was moving through, so they decided to seek shelter. She twisted her knee when she slipped on the grass and almost fell and reported the injury. Through treatment, it was found that three discs in her back had apparently been affected and that surgery was needed.

Her comp claim was denied by the deputy commissioner and affirmed by the Commission and an appellate court because her risk of exposure to the tornado was not increased because of her employment. The interview was suspended while they attempted to get out of the weather, which is an act of God. Therefore, this was not a work-related injury.

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