Legal Corner

ADA
Lawsuit over lifting restrictions reinstated

In Victor E. Pfendler v. Liberty Dialysis-Hawaii L.L.C, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a lower court and reinstated a lawsuit filed by a dialysis technical specialist.The court found that the former employee’s and another technician’s statement that the most he lifted on a regular basis was about 40 pounds, conflicted with his former employer’s assertion that lifting 75 to 100 pounds is an essential job function.

The court noted, “if lifting more than 50 pounds was not an essential function of the job, he would have been a qualified individual and Liberty’s refusal to allow him to return to the (dialysis) position may have been discriminatory.” Alternatively, said the ruling, “if the lifting requirement was an essential function, he may have been entitled to an accommodation that the employer waive the formal lifting condition.”

Supermarket chain pays over $800,000 to resolve ADA charges

A Salt Lake City-based supermarket chain, Associated Fresh Market, will pay $832,500 to settle an EEOC charge that it denied reasonable accommodations to disabled individuals. It also has agreed to change its ADA policies and procedures and conduct training for its human resources team, store directors, assistant store directors and employees.

FMLA and ADA
When job functions can be fulfilled, part-time work is a reasonable accommodation

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in Heidi Hostetler v. The College of Wooster, overturned a lower court ruling and reinstated disability discrimination charges filed by a college worker terminated because her post-pregnancy disability required her to work only part time. Noting that there were genuine disputes that full time work was an essential function of the job, the court stated although it may have been more efficient and easier for the college if the employee worked full-time, but could fulfill her job duties on a part-time basis, “those are not the concerns of the ADA”.

Workers’ Comp
Exclusive remedy bars suing company for asbestos exposure – California

In Allen Rudolph et al.,vs. Rudolph and Sletten, Inc., the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that a person who was sickened by asbestos could not sue the company allegedly responsible for his exposure, even though the Supreme Court has ruled that employers have a duty to protect workers’ families from exposure through contact with fibers that come home on the employees’ skin, hair and clothing. The worker was exposed to asbestos as a child at home as well as a worker at the father’s construction company.

Tort claims by employees for injuries that are collateral to, or derivative of, a compensable workplace injury are barred by the exclusive remedy. A substantial contributing cause of his illness was his job exposure to asbestos and the exposure at home did not create a separate injury outside workers’ compensation coverage.

Out-of-state football player could not pursue a cumulative trauma claim – California

In Larry C. Tripplett v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, Indianapolis Colts et. Al, the 4th District Court of Appeal ordered publication of its ruling finding that an out-of-state football player, who was a resident of the state, could not pursue a cumulative trauma workers’compensation claim in the state because there’s no proof he signed his National Football League contract there and he only played two games there.

At issue is jurisdiction, according to the court record. Since he was not “hired” (there was no evidence the contract was executed in the state) and the cumulative injury occurred at his retirement, rather than during any particular game, he was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

Court finds financial need for advance to pay for litigation costs should be considered – Florida

In Anderson v. Broward County Sheriff’s Office, the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned a judge of compensation claims and ruled a worker’s financial need for an advance payment should be considered even when the purpose is to pay for expenses related to establishing compensability. An injured worker who had returned to full duty after nine months on light duty was seeking an advance to pay for an independent medical exam in support of a pending claim for continued medical treatment.

The court saw “no reason why the claimant’s financial need (or lack thereof) should not be considered when the purpose of an advance is to pay for litigation costs rather than other expenses such as rent or utility bills.”

Jimmy John’s not a joint employer – Illinois

The U.S. District Court in Chicago granted sandwich shop franchiser Jimmy John’s L.L.C, summary judgment in Re: Jimmy John’s Overtime Litigation. The court noted, “Jimmy John’s has established that it does not: (1) have the power to hire or fire franchise employees; (2) supervise and/or control employee work schedules or conditions of payments; (3) determine the rate and method of payment or (4) maintain employment records for franchise employees.”

Misclassification statute does not apply when employee sues employer – Michigan

In McQueer v. Perfect Fence Co., a laborer who worked intermittently for a fence company and had been directed to stop using a Bobcat as a hammer, but did not stop a fellow worker from doing so, was injured. He claimed the employer told him not to report his injuries as work-related because he was “not on the books” and there were no workers’ compensation benefits. However, he did receive benefits.

The Supreme Court reversed a finding of the state’s Court of Appeals noting a provision that prohibits the misclassification of certain employees in order to avoid workers’ compensation liability, did not apply to an injured employee who sued his employer, alleging an intentional tort. The statute provides a civil remedy to an employee of a contractor engaged by a principal, which was not the case here, thus the employee misclassification provision did not apply to him.

Squabbling employers must pay attorney fees – Minnesota

In Hufnagel v. Deer River Health Care Center, a nursing assistant aggravated an earlier back injury. A few years after she returned to work from the first injury, the company was sold and the workers’ comp insurer changed. When she experienced back pain, the new company denied liability, noting the need for medical treatment was a continuation of the prior work injury, which is under a different insurer. After nearly two years of legal proceedings that included six medical examinations, a Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals judge overturned a lower ruling and ruled that the current employer was liable for the aggravated injuries.

In upholding the decision, the Supreme Court noted, “the efforts by each employer to shift responsibility to the other employer greatly increased the burden on counsel to provide effective representation… We therefore hold that (Ms.) Hufnagel was entitled to receive reasonable attorney fees.”

Auto insurer must pay work-related chiropractic treatment – Minnesota

In Jennifer Rodriguez v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., the Court of Appeals ruled that State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co had to pay for an insured’s chiropractic treatment after the workers’ compensation insurance carrier stopped paying because they exceeded the 12 weeks specified under the work comp treatment guidelines. The employee was a bus driver who was injured when a person driving a stolen vehicle crashed into her bus. According to the court, it is up to the no-fault automobile insurer to seek payment from the workers compensation insurer, if applicable, and the court did not express an opinion whether treatment was considered excessive under workers’ comp regulations.

Overtime must be included in calculation of AWW – Mississippi

In Nixon v. Howard Industries, an assembler injured his back and the company stipulated that his average weekly wage was $645.40, which included overtime. A vocational rehab counselor determined that he could still work, but at a much-reduced wage. An administrative judge found that the injury had caused a loss of wage-earning capacity, but based the pre-injury weekly wage by assuming a 40-hour work week at his pre-injury hourly rate of $12.26. After several appeals, the Court of Appeals noted the average weekly wage is to be calculated by taking the actual earnings over a period of 52 weeks and dividing the sum by 52. Permanent partial disability is determined by two-thirds of the difference of the average weekly wage before the injury and earning capacity post-injury.

Knee injury aggravated at home compensable – Mississippi

In Prairie Farms Dairy v. Graham, an employee injured his knee while making a delivery of milk and underwent surgery, but continued to have problems with his knee. A little less than a year later, he fell at home because his knee gave way and he experienced back pain. Several years earlier he had had back pain and the nurse case manager told him an appointment with the physician would not be allowed because it was a pre-existing condition. He saw his personal health physician, but filed a petition demanding benefits for his knee injury and a subsequent injury to his back.

The company contested the compensability of the back condition, but the Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Court of Appeals approved it. The court noted that industrial loss is not synonymous with functional loss and means that a loss of wage-earning capacity has occurred. There was no dispute that the employee was not able to return to his position and that his earning capacity had greatly decreased. Further, the court said “every natural consequence” that flowed from the knee injury was compensable under law.

Legislative change to lump settlements process applies to pending cases – Nebraska

In Dragon v. Cheesecake Factory., the Supreme Court ruled that a legislative change to the process for finalizing lump-sum settlements applies to cases that were still pending when the statutory amendments took effect. The legislative change provides that a verified release becomes effective once payment is made and the Workers’ Compensation Court enters an order of dismissal with prejudice. According to the court, this was a procedural, not substantive, change and, therefore, applicable to pending cases.

The court also ruled that the existence of a legitimate question over the enforceability of liens against the settlement does not excuse an employer from making timely payment of the settlement amount.

Worker cannot raise “increased risk” argument on appeal – Nebraska

In Maroulakos v. Wal-Mart Associate, a worker who complained of not feeling well, fell and had a seizure. He sustained a facial laceration, sinus fractures and possibly a traumatic brain injury causing neurocognitive impairment. While he argued he tripped over a pallet, video surveillance and witness accounts did not support this. A compensation court judge determined that the fall resulted from an idiopathic seizure and syncope event that was personal to him and not compensable under workers’ comp and the appeal was heard by the Supreme Court.

The Court noted that the injured employee had not raised the issue of falling into a shelfing unit nor the ‘increased danger rule’, which recognizes that when an employment hazard causes or increases the severity of an injury sustained from an idiopathic accident, the injury becomes compensable. Since he had not raised this at trial, he could not raise on appeal.

Claim of injury isn’t sufficient for benefit award – New York

In Matter of Elias-Gomez v. Balsam View Dairy Farm, a farmhand claimed that he injured his right shoulder on a specific date, approximately one year earlier, while assisting in a “particularly difficult” birth of a calf. However, the farm representative testified that no calves were born on that date and there was no report of injury.

State comp law provides that, absent substantial evidence to the contrary, there is a presumption that an accident that occurs in the course of employment also arises out of such employment. However, this cannot be used to establish that an accident occurred nor relieve the burden of demonstrating that the accident occurred in the course of, and arose out of, his or her employment.

Benefits can be terminated even though worker still experiences pain – Pennsylvania

In Hernandez v. WCAB (F&P Holding Co.), the Commonwealth Court ruled that an employer could terminate benefits to an injured worker, although a judge accepted the employee’s testimony about lingering pain. A worker who was on light duty, injured his back and received workers’ compensation. However, when his doctor imposed further restrictions, the company could not accommodate and fired him.

When the employee filed a petition seeking compensation for the decrease in earning power, the company argued that the new restrictions were not related to the injury and filed a petition to terminate its payment of benefits, arguing the worker had fully recovered. A workers’ comp judge and the Commonwealth Court agreed. While the judge accepted the employee’s testimony of his continued pain, the court noted, a worker could forever preclude the termination of benefits by merely complaining of continuing pain.

Pennsylvania case law shows an employer can terminate benefits, even if a worker credibly testifies about the existence of ongoing pain, so long as the employer’s medical expert unequivocally testifies that it is his opinion, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the worker is fully recovered, can return to work without restrictions and that there are no objective medical findings that either substantiate the claims of pain or connect them to the work injury.

Hearing loss compensable despite long filing delay – Tennessee

In Westby v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel upheld an award of benefits to a worker for his hearing loss, even though he did not file his claim until years after he told his doctor he was aware he was losing his hearing. For much of his career with Goodyear, the worker was not required to wear hearing protection, but the company made it mandatory in the last few years of his employment. He told a doctor in 2002 that he knew he had hearing loss and that he had known for at least 10 to 15 years, but he did not file a comp claim until 2012.

The company contested his claim, contending he had failed to give timely notice of injury; however, the court noted case law has established that the statute of limitations for filing a workers’ compensation claim involving gradually occurring injuries does not begin to run until the date the employee is unable to work due to his injury. This is known as the “last-day-worked rule”. It also noted that the worker’s hearing tests demonstrated a continued loss of hearing and the test results were the actual notice of injury.

Hearing loss work related – Wisconsin

In Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Group L.L.C. v. the Labor and Industry Review Commission, an appeals court upheld a labor review commission’s ruling that a former employee of Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Group L.L.C. and Transportation Insurance Co. suffered an 84.67% hearing loss as a result of his employment. In this case, the medical opinions of the company-designated physician disagreed with that of the treating physician. An independent medical exam determined work-related hearing loss, but his calculation method was contrary to the state’s administrative code, which requires the calculation to be based on pure tone testing. Although the independent medical examiner found the pure tone test unreliable, the review commission and circuit court found them reliable and awarded an 84.67% binaural hearing loss.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

How employers get tripped up by the complexities of Workers’ Comp, ADA, and FMLA regulations

While Workers’ Comp (WC), ADA, and FMLA laws have been in place for many years, the overlap between the three is a constant challenge.The laws have different time frames, duration, and rules around eligibility and use the same terminology with different meanings. Several states, notably California and New York, have adopted their own leave of absence laws that are more expansive than the federal laws, and case law is constantly evolving and varies by region.

Here are common issues that get employers into trouble:

Length of leave

FMLA requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a serious health condition and/or birth/adoption of a child. For eligible employees, the leave cannot exceed 12 weeks under law, but additional leave can be granted under the ADA. Leave can also be intermittent.

Under the ADA, employers must consider providing unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation for employees with a disability, which is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Leave can be intermittent. The EEOC notes that leave qualifies as a reasonable accommodation “when it enables an employee to return to work following the period of leave.”

While the maximum length of leave is undefined, the EEOC and several federal appellate courts have said that leave of “indefinite duration” can be considered an undue burden on the employer. Some courts have gone so far as to say that individuals seeking excessively long or undetermined leaves need not be accommodated because they are not “otherwise qualified” for their jobs under the ADA. The ADA protects individuals with disabilities who are otherwise qualified, with or without accommodation, to perform the essential functions of their jobs.

There are no limits on the length of leave under WC, although some states use evidence-based medicine guidelines to control WC costs. While workers’ comp provides for income replacement and health care, it does not, necessarily, provide job protection. This varies by state law.

Common issues:

  • For WC claims, FMLA leave should run concurrent with the WC leave. A workplace injury that requires time away from work and meets the criteria for a ‘serious health condition’ under FMLA should trigger an assessment of the worker’s eligibility for FMLA and, for those eligible, initiation of the paperwork process. If the employer properly notifies the employee in writing that the time off work receiving WC benefits will be counted as FMLA leave, it is counted against the employee’s applicable 12-week entitlement. Periodic treatment or therapy can count as intermittent FMLA leave.
  • The ADA and WC define disability quite differently. The ADA is not intended to cover temporary medical conditions. Work-related injuries do not always cause physical or mental impairments severe enough to “substantially limit” a major life activity. Moreover, a WC determination of permanent total disability doesn’t necessarily affect an individual’s ability to return to work under the ADA, although it may provide relevant evidence regarding an employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of the position or to return to work without posing a direct threat to themselves or others.
  • Staff is not adequately trained in what constitutes a ‘serious health condition’ under FMLA. Some experts define it as incapacity of more than three consecutive calendar days and/or continuing treatment. For example, if a worker is being treated for chronic back pain but has not been incapacitated for three days, it still might be covered. Migraines could be covered, but not headaches. Typically, routine care such as eye or dental exams, the flu, colds, and conditions where the treatment is limited to OTC medications are NOT serious health conditions.
  • Managers may fail to recognize that FMLA has been requested. The employee does not have to use the term ‘FMLA’ to request leave; rather, the employee must only give notice of the need for leave that is protected by the FMLA.
  • Once an employee exhausts the protected leave of 12 weeks under the FMLA, the employer must consider whether the employee is eligible for additional leave under the ADA. The ADA requires employers to “reasonably accommodate” employees with disabilities and such accommodation can include granting additional leave. In some cases, the ‘serious health condition’ can qualify as an ADA disability. ADA’s broad definition of “disability” can include mental afflictions such as depression and anxiety. An employee need not mention the ADA or ask for a “reasonable accommodation” to put the employer on notice of a possible need for accommodation. In some cases, a serious workplace injury should trigger the interactive process, sooner, rather than later.
  • Recordkeeping is lax, particularly involving intermittent FMLA leave. Documentation of the interactive process for ADA must be rigorous.

Benefits and reinstatement

Both the FMLA and ADA have reinstatement and benefit maintenance requirements, although the ADA allows an exception for ‘undue hardship.’ The ADA requires employers to reinstate employee to their previous position unless it causes undue hardship and maintain benefits the same as similarly situated employees on leave. Under the FMLA, health benefits must be maintained, others are based on policy. It protects the employee’s job during the leave period, and at the end of the leave an employer must return the employee to his or her original job or its equivalent.

While WC provides for income replacement and health care, it does not, necessarily, provide job protection. This varies by state law. However, employers are typically prohibited from terminating or otherwise taking adverse action against an employee in retaliation for the employee’s filing of a WC claim.

Common issues:

  • When an employee is covered by both ADA and FMLA, the reinstatement policy must allow return to the same job, not just an equivalent.
  • Employees incurring a compensable workers’ comp injury may be eligible for leave under ADA and FMLA. If so, the maintenance of benefits and reinstatement of employees to the same or an equivalent position as required by the laws is applicable.
  • Employees on workers’ compensation leave cannot be subjected to retaliation for filing an injury claim or collecting benefits, but they could be disciplined or terminated for legitimate reasons, including a refusal to report for work when expected or required, even if the expectation is to perform light-duty work.

Light duty assignments

Under the FMLA, employers can’t require employees to work during leave. Contact with employees to obtain information, such as passwords, needs to be brief and concise. Employees can reject a light duty assignment and can choose to stay home until they can return to the former position (or to an equivalent position), or until the available FMLA leave is exhausted.

Under WC, if an employee has been medically cleared for a light duty assignment, in many cases, the employer can terminate WC benefits if the employee refuses the assignment.

Under the ADA, light duty is a permissible accommodation. The employer is not required to provide the employee’s preferred accommodation. However, the law does not require employers to agree to a permanent light duty assignment as a form of reasonable accommodation.

Common issues:

  • An employee cannot be disciplined or terminated for refusing light-duty work when the absence is protected under the FMLA. If the employee is receiving WC benefits, the employer can terminate or modify the benefits.
  • Often in WC cases, the issue of whether an injured employee can return to work is decided by the claims adjuster in consultation with the employer, based on the work restrictions issued by the treating physician. Under the ADA, employers are typically not required to create even temporary light duty positions as an accommodation, but courts have differed on an employers’ obligations to open WC light duty programs to all disabled employees. When employers do, under the “interactive process” of the ADA, a more flexible approach that involves an open dialogue between the injured employee and the employer is required.
  • It is common for employers dealing with injured employees to impose a fixed limit, for example, a 90-day limit, on the length of light-duty transitional work. While such a fixed limit might not violate the requirements of the ADA, when the fixed light-duty period ends, just as when an employee’s leave is exhausted, the employer and employee would be required to reengage in the interactive process.
  • Under the ADA, while an employer cannot require an employee to do something that is inconsistent with restrictions listed by the employee’s doctor, an employer can require an employee to return to work if the employee can perform the work required with or without a reasonable accommodation. The interactive process is fluid and accommodations must constantly be adjusted as the restrictions and the job changes.
  • Under WC, light duty work must be consistent with medical restrictions set by the treating doctor. If an employee chooses not to take a light duty job that accommodates the medical restrictions, the employer can terminate or modify the benefits.
  • Managers and supervisors must be properly trained in implementing stay-at-work and return-to-work programs.

Medical inquiry/documentation

Under the ADA, medical inquiries must be job-related and necessary to assess ability to perform the essential functions of the job. Under the FMLA, employers can request certification of serious health conditions from healthcare providers and must give employees 15 days to provide certification. In WC, the discovery allowed can be broad and include pre-existing conditions. HIPAA’s privacy rule allows WC insurers, third-party administrators and some employers to obtain the necessary medical information to manage their WC claims. Disclosure of medical information can vary from state to state.

Common issues:

  • Under the ADA, medical examinations should be limited to determining an employee’s ability to perform the job and whether an accommodation is needed and would be effective.
  • Under the FMLA, a medical certification should demonstrate the need for leave but not exceed what is requested by the Department of Labor’s medical certification form.
  • Employers need to understand the state laws governing medical privacy and workers’ comp claims.

Complying with the array of laws and regulations governing work-related injuries is complicated for employers and their counsel. Employers must examine the requirements of each individual statute, and how they interrelate. Throughout the process, encourage open communication with the employee, rely on sufficient medical documentation, maintain consistency in decision-making, document the process, and monitor the leave.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Legal Corner

ADA
Disqualifying applicants based on preemployment nerve conduction tests leads to $4.4 million settlement

Chicago-based Amsted Rail Co., a steel casting manufacturer, has agreed to pay $4.4 million to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission class disability discrimination lawsuit for allegedly disqualifying job applicants based on the result of a nerve conduction test for carpal tunnel syndrome rather than conducting an individualized assessment of each applicant’s ability to do the job safely. The court found that the test was unlawful and had little or no value in predicting the likelihood of future injury.

In the settlement, Amsted Rail agreed to discontinue the process and compensate affected applicants for lost wages as well as conduct training and allow the EEOC to monitor hiring to assure compliance with the ADA.
Workers’ Compensation
Signing a preprinted compromise and release (C&R) form to settle a workers’ compensation claim doesn’t relieve liability for claims outside workers’ comp – California

In Camacho v. Target Corp., an appellate court found a state trial court erred when it granted summary judgment to an employer in an employment discrimination case filed by a former employee. The trial court’s decision was based on language in a preprinted Compromise & Release form, which purported to release the employer from liability for “any and all potential claims.” The appellate court noted the purported general waiver was displayed in fine print and it made no reference to any claims beyond the scope of the workers’ compensation claims.

Ruling on five-year statutory cap on the duration of temporary disability benefits stands – California

The state Supreme Court denied review of a 4th DCA decision regarding a statutory cap on the duration of temporary disability benefits. The decision noted that Labor Code Section 4656 simultaneously authorizes a maximum award of 104 weeks of temporary disability payments to a worker who suffers an injury on or after Jan. 1, 2008, and limits payments to a period of disability occurring within five years of the injury.

Housekeeper who tested positive for marijuana denied benefits – Florida

In Brinson v. Hospital Housekeeping Services, a housekeeper fell at work and dislocated her shoulder. Her supervisor drove her to a clinic, where she provided a urine sample pursuant to her employer’s post-accident drug-testing policy.

When she filed a worker’s comp claim, the company contested it. While Florida law provides a rebuttable presumption that the injury was caused by drug use, when a worker fails a post-injury drug test, it also allows a worker to rebut by presenting clear and convincing evidence that the “influence of the drug did not contribute to the injury.”

In a split decision, the court found that the evidence submitted to rebut the presumption of causation was not sufficient to award benefits. Experts testified that drug tests only detect the presence of drug metabolites, but do not conclusively indicate that drugs are active in the bloodstream or have caused impairment.

Co-employee does not have immunity for civil claim related to worker’s death – Florida

In Ramsey v. DeWitt Excavating, an appellate court ruled that the family of a construction worker could not proceed with a tort claim against his employer for a fatal accident, but the family’s claim against a co-employee could proceed. The 20-year-old construction worker was inside a cement-mixing pug mill when a co-worker turned it on.

While the 5th District Court of Appeal noted that employers generally are immune from tort liability for work-related injuries and this immunity usually extends to co-employees, there are exceptions. If the incident is caused by an employer’s intentional tort or if co-employees act with willful and wanton disregard for the well-being of the injured worker, or if they act with gross negligence, the law allows for a civil remedy.

The court found that the risk of injury was apparent; thus, the employer was entitled to summary judgment. However, it concluded evidence suggested the co-employee directed the deceased employee into the pug mill for cleaning and later activated it without checking to see if he was still inside and a jury could find this was gross negligence.

“Similar” specialty not the same as “same” specialty when authorizing a change in doctors – Florida

Under Florida law, an employee can make a one-time request to change treating physicians. In Myers v. Pasco County School Board, a worker who was being treated by an orthopedic surgeon requested a change in providers. The school board made an appointment for her to see a neurosurgeon who also treats spinal conditions, but she did not attend the appointment.

While a judge found in favor of the school board, the 1st District Court of Appeal disagreed.

“A physician who provides similar services in a different specialty does not qualify as a doctor in the ‘same specialty’ because – quite simply – ‘same’ is different than ‘similar,'” the court said.

Evidence chain issues negate intoxication defense – Georgia

A module feeder at a cotton gin was seriously injured when a truck ran into him at a loading dock. In Lingo v. Early County Gin, the company denied benefits based on a post-injury drug test finding of marijuana. When the lab technician who went to the hospital to obtain the urine sample, the injured worker was in surgery and a nurse later returned a sample to the technician.

The technician had no firsthand knowledge of who collected the sample or what protocols were followed.

The case went through a series of appeals. Noting the statutory procedures for specimen collection and testing when an employer attempts to involve the presumption of intoxication, the Court of Appeals ruled against the employer. A sample must be obtained by a physician, a physician assistant, a registered professional nurse, a licensed practical nurse, a nurse practitioner or a certified paramedic and while it was reasonable to assume that the sample was taken by a nurse in the operating room, “assumptions based on speculation are not evidence.”

Work comp lien from third party and the limited liability under Kotecki cap are separate – Illinois

In Cooley v. Power Construction Co. (Reflection Window Co.), an employee of a sub-subcontractor (Reflection) suffered injuries on a project. He collected workers’ comp from his employer and filed a negligence action against the general contractor (GC). When the GC filed a claim for contribution against Reflection, it asserted the “Kotecki cap” as an affirmative defense. This refers to an earlier Supreme Court decision that an employer’s liability for an employee’s injury is capped at an amount not greater than the employer’s workers’ compensation liability.

The GC argued that Reflection had waived the defense under either the master agreement, the subcontract agreement or both and a judge included a statement that Reflection’s workers’ compensation lien had also been waived. The appellate court ruled that “the lien and the limited liability under Kotecki are separate concepts.” A waiver of the Kotecki cap defense does not mean there was a waiver of the workers’ compensation lien. If the GC were found responsible for the injuries, then Reflections could recover the workers’ comp payment.

Employee killed by uninsured driver not covered under his company’s uninsured motorist coverage – Indiana

Overturning trial and state appeals court rulings, the state Supreme Court ruled that an employee killed by an uninsured driver under the influence of methamphetamine while mowing his lawn is not covered under his company’s uninsured motorist coverage. The employee was a scheduled driver under the policy who could use a company truck as his primary vehicle for personal and business transportation.

The decease’s estate claimed it qualified for coverage under the policy term, “others we protect”. Contrary to the estate’s claims, neither the declarations pages, nor the policy, nor the (uninsured motorist) endorsement expressly list the deceased as a ‘named insured,’ ‘additional insured,’ or even a protected or covered driver,” said the ruling.

Expert testimony key in cumulative injury cases – Missouri

In Ackman v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., an appellate court denied benefits under the Federal Employers Liability Act, noting the railway worker’s failure to secure expert medical witness testimony linking his alleged cumulative injuries to his job duties. The employee worked as a machine operator and argued he had suffered cumulative injuries from the repeated stress of riding on Union Pacific’s backhoes.

When the employee did not depose medical experts in response to a trial judge’s scheduling order, the company was awarded summary judgment, shifting the burden of proof to the employee. On appeal, the court noted that expert testimony is generally not required when a layperson could understand what caused an injury; but with cumulative injury cases, expert testimony is usually required to establish causation.

Non-injury related medical procedure compensable when reasonable and necessary to treat a work-related injury – Nebraska

In Carr v. Ganz, the Court of Appeals overturned a compensation court’s denial of a worker’s coronary bypass procedure to prepare him for the implantation of a penile prosthesis. The worker fell off of a horse at work, sustaining symphysis pubis and sacral fractures, and a hernia and developed urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction. He argued he needed a penile prosthesis and could not undergo the surgery until he underwent a heart catheterization.

Ultimately, the company agreed to pay for the heart catheterization, but the employee underwent a coronary artery bypass procedure also, which the employer refused to pay for. The compensation court agreed, but the Court of Appeals ruled that the compensation court applied the “reasonable relationship” standard when it should have used the “medically reasonable and necessary analysis.”

If a medical treatment is medically reasonable and necessary to treat a work-related injury, the treatment is “required by the nature of the injury” and is compensable, even if it is unrelated to the injury.

“Going and coming rule” nixes benefits for train conductor assaulted before her shift – New York

In Rosemary Rodriquez v. New York City Transit Authority, Workers’ Compensation Board, a train conductor was on her way to work and waiting for a train when she was assaulted by a commuter who was upset by her refusal to open the station gate to let him in (without paying). She sustained multiple injuries to her face, head, neck and back.

Based on the “going and coming rule,” the Compensation Board denied the claim and the appellate court concurred, noting that the assault occurred approximately one hour prior to the beginning of her shift and the employer did not require her to utilize public transit to get to her job.

Cannot have both Nonscheduled PPD and Scheduled Loss of Use awards for same accident – New York

In Matter of Tobin v Finger Lakes DDSO, it was ruled that an injured worker may not receive both a scheduled loss of use award and a nonscheduled permanent partial disability award for injuries arising out of the same work-related accident. The worker suffered reflex sympathetic dystrophy/complex regional pain syndrome (RSD/CRPS) and ptosis of the right eyelid entitling him to a nonscheduled permanent partial disability classification, according to the Workers’ Compensation Board, Therefore, it was appropriate to reverse a WCJ’s finding that the vision loss from a work-related injury was amenable to a 100% scheduled loss of use.

Company receives credit for disability benefits paid – North Carolina

In Haulcy v. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., an employee who injured her back did not file a comp claim nor receive treatment. About a year later she experienced pain while working and was diagnosed with a disc herniation and facet arthropathy in her lumbar spine. The Commission concluded the injury was a material aggravation to a pre-existing low back condition. She filed a claim, and worked modified duty for 90 days, which was the maximum allowed by the company. She was off for about four months before she could return to work at full duty. The commission found and the Court of Appeals agreed that she was entitled to benefits for this period, but the company was entitled to a credit against the benefits of $15,521.90 for payments made under its accident-and-sickness disability plan.

Supreme Court clarifies employee classification coverage under the Construction Worker Misclassification Act (CWMA) – Pennsylvania

In Department of Labor and Industry, Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund vs. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Lin and Eastern Taste), the Supreme Court ruled that the phrase “construction industry” used in the CWMA limits its applicability to workers engaged in work for a business entity that performs construction services. As such, a worker who was injured while remodeling his sister-in-law’s restaurant was not eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits for his injuries.

While he was doing construction work at the time of his injuries, and the serious injuries rendered him a paraplegic, the Commonwealth Court said his work at the restaurant did not bring him within the class of potential workers who could be deemed “employees” eligible for workers’ compensation benefits under the Act. He was an independent contractor, since no one oversaw the manner and means in which he did his work, and the restaurant was not a construction business.

Supreme Court clarifies and denies use of proceeds from third-party recovery for future medical benefits – Pennsylvania

In Whitmoyer v. WCAB (Mountain Country Meats), the Supreme Court noted that the workers’ comp statute provides that any subrogation recovery the employee collects from a third-party tortfeasor in excess of the benefits already paid by the employer “shall be treated as an advance payment by the employer on account of any future installments of compensation.” Although compensation can refer to both disability benefits and medical expenses, the statue specifically says compensation that is paid in installments.

The Workers’ Compensation Act requires that disability benefits be paid in periodic installments, but not medical expenses and, as such, the recovery cannot be used as a credit for future medical expenses.

Reinstatement of permanent benefits for “Pre-Protz” injured worker – Pennsylvania

In Whitfield v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal B, the Commonwealth Court opened the door to injured workers whose disability ratings were lowered through an independent medical exam (IRE) to petition for reinstatement of benefits. Last summer, the Supreme Court declared the entire IRE process void, in light of the earlier Protz decision, which struck down a statutory requirement that doctors use the “most recent” edition of the AMA’s Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment in performing IREs.

During the two years between the rulings, injured workers filed petitions seeking to have their status changed from partial disability to total disability because their status had been changed from total disability to partial disability through the IRE process. Whitfield was one such case. While the WCAB and a WCJ denied the change in status, the Commonwealth Court vacated the board’s decision.

The court instead determined that a worker whose status was modified because of an invalid IRE can get total disability status reinstated if he/she credibly testifies that the work-related injury continues and the WCJ credits that testimony over any evidence that an employer presents to the contrary. Medical expert testimony is not required. The worker must file the petition within three years of the last receipt of benefits.

Employer cannot recoup payments for disputed treatment, but doesn’t have to pay fees – Tennessee

In Young v. Sugar Hollow Properties, a workers’ comp settlement required the employer to provide future reasonable and necessary medical treatment related to the injuries. The worker’s doctors requested a treatment that the utilization reviewer did not find reasonable and necessary because the recommendation did not comply with the Official Disability Guidelines and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development agreed.

However, a trial court ordered the employer to provide the treatments and to pay legal fees. When the company appealed, the Supreme Court Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel said the issue of whether the employer was required to provide the treatments was moot because the employer had paid for them. However, the award of associated fees was denied since the worker offered no evidence to establish that the recommended treatments were causally related to her compensable injuries.

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Legal Corner

ADA
Employee with mental illness can be terminated for inappropriate conduct

In Medina v. Berwyn South School District 100, N.D. Ill., a school district employer that terminated an administrative employee who recently returned from FMLA leave for major depression and generalized anxiety disorder did not violate the ADA or the FMLA, according to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. When she returned to work she shared an office with two other administrative assistants and when asked by the principal to translate a letter argued it was difficult to concentrate and she had too many other things to do.

When she met with the principal, she was told she was insubordinate and, feeling anxious, called her therapist who told her to call an ambulance. After hanging up on 911 twice, she placed the call and when leaving on the gurney she yelled at the principal and assistant principal in front of the students. Her doctor sent a note asking to place her on medical leave, but the district conducted an investigation and decided to terminate her due to misconduct.

She filed suit claiming she was discharged because of her disability, but the court found “when an employee engages in behavior that is unacceptable in the workplace… the fact that the behavior is precipitated by her mental illness does not present an issue under the Americans with Disabilities Act; the behavior itself disqualifies her from continued employment and justifies her discharge.”

Adverse action against an employee over the fear that the employee will develop a disability nixed by court

An applicant received a conditional offer of employment from Burlington Northern Santa Fe pending a medical evaluation, among other things. The company believes that hiring individuals for a safety sensitive position who have a body mass index of 40 or greater, pose a significant risk for diabetes, sleep apnea, and heart disease. While the applicant had none of these, his BMI was 47.5.

The company withdrew the offer and the applicant sued under the ADA. The company and the court agreed that the applicant was not disabled by his obesity, but the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois found that there were triable issues as to whether the company treated him as if he were a “ticking time bomb” who at any time could be unexpectedly incapacitated by obesity-related conditions.

While the company pursued a business necessity defense, the court found it was impossible to determine whether it was truly necessary to exclude individuals with Class III obesity from safety-sensitive positions. Shell v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co.

Workers’ Compensation
Supreme Court defines Independent Contractors – California

In a groundbreaking decision, Dynamax vs The Superior Court of Los Angeles County, the Supreme Court rejected “The Borello test,” a ten-point test which was used as a standard test for employment and applied the much narrower three factors of the ABC test: i.e., to show that a worker is free from its control, performing work outside the usual course of its business, and customarily engaged in independent work.

This case was decided for the purposes of the state’s wage orders, and not directly related to workers’ compensation, but many speculate it sets the stage for more workers being designated as employees.

Benefits for treatment from physician not approved by employer denied – Georgia

In Starwood Hotels & Resorts v. Lopez, the Court of Appeals overturned a judge’s order awarding an injured worker payment for treatment by the doctors she selected without the approval of her employer. The employee slipped and fell and initially went to one of the approved facilities and was diagnosed with an elbow fracture. When she returned to work, the hotel had changed management and she was assigned to a less physically demanding position, but stopped working because of continued pain and sought treatment from her own physicians. When she filed for reinstatement of her TTD benefits, Starwood requested a hearing to determine if it was liable for additional benefits.

An ALJ determined that Starwood’s hearing request had effectively been a challenge to her claim, which entitled her to choose her physician. After a series of appeals with different results, the Court of Appeals found Starwood’s hearing request was not the same thing as denying benefits, but the TTD award was appropriate.

Medical providers can’t charge interest on late workers’ comp claims – Illinois

In Medicos Pain & Surgical Specialists S.C. and Ambulatory Surgical Care Facility LLC. vs Blackhawk Steel Corp, the medical providers sought to recover $37,229 in interest under the Workers’ Compensation Act for long-awaited payments related to care for an employee who fell four stories off a truck in 2010. In overturning the trial court’s ruling, the appellate court found that even though the Workers’ Compensation Act provided for interest payments, the medical service providers are not members of the class for whose benefit the Act was enacted. It noted this type of dispute belongs with Illinois’ Workers’ Compensation Commission, and not in the courts.

 

Carrier’s subrogation rights upheld in spite of alleged misconduct – Illinois

In Estate of Rexroad v. Mid-West Truckers Risk Mgmt, the court ruled that a carrier’s right to reimbursement is “absolute,” and cannot be denied because of alleged wrongdoing. When there is a recovery available from third parties who are responsible for the injury, “fairness and justice require that the employer be reimbursed for the workers’ compensation benefits he has paid or will pay.”

Spider bite compensable – Illinois

In Jeffers v. State of Illinois/Tamms Correctional Center, an educator worked in a classroom at a correctional center that was not open to the public and was known to have pest problems in the past. She was bit and diagnosed with a brown recluse spider bite and treated with antibiotics, pain medication, and steroids.

While an arbitrator denied benefits, the Commission reversed, noting the educator was exposed to a greater risk of encountering insects and spiders at the prison than that of the general public.

Employee definition in Independent Contractor statute does not apply to workers’ compensation – Massachusetts

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled the state’s independent contractor statute does not determine employee status for workers’ compensation benefits. The reviewing board of the Department of Industrial Accidents noted that the law governing employment relations in the state is far from uniform.

The case involved a newspaper delivery service that pays delivery agents to distribute the newspapers to subscribers. The agent had signed several contracts, indicating she was an independent contractor, was allowed to subcontract her deliveries, supplied all her own materials, purchased and collected independent contractor work insurance, and filed her taxes as an independent contractor.

To determine whether a worker is entitled to wage and hour protections, minimum wage or overtime, a three-prong independent contractor test is applied, but whether a worker is entitled to workers’ compensation depends on an analysis of twelve factors.

Employer cannot be ordered to reimburse for medical marijuana – Michigan

In Newville v. Michigan Department of Corrections, the workers’ compensation magistrate found that a correction officer’s injuries were sustained as a result of altercations with inmates, and prescriptions for Oxycodone, Fentanyl, and medical marijuana for back pain were reasonable and necessary. However, pursuant to the workers’ compensation law and the Medical Marijuana Act, the magistrate cannot order the employer to reimburse for the cost of medical marijuana, even though the worker’s use of marijuana helps reduce his use of prescribed opioids.

Failure to adequately train employee trumps employee’s violation of safety practices – Missouri

In Elsworth v. Wayne Cty., an employer sought a reduction in comp benefits because an employee had failed to wear a seat belt or safety hat. An 18-year-old employee had been on the job less than a month when the dump truck he was driving overturned, leaving him in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. In making its decision, the Commission determined that the employer had not adopted any training program and had not monitored employee compliance with any rules.

Supreme Court upholds statutory benefits for Mesothelioma claims – Missouri

A constitutional challenge to a 2014 statutory amendment that allowed workers to collect a lump-sum payment of benefits if they develop occupationally caused mesothelioma was rejected by the Supreme Court in Accident Fund Insurance Company; E.J. Cody Company Inc. v. Robert Casey, Dolores Murphy. In Missouri, employers have the option of accepting liability for occupational diseases under Section 287.200.4 or taking the risk of defending against a civil suit. In this case, the employer accepted liability and insured the risk.

The Supreme Court ruled that the statute providing the enhanced benefits is not unconstitutionally retrospective. As such the widow and the eight adult children were entitled to benefits. Section 287.200 is unlike other workers’ compensation provisions in that it does not condition a child’s recovery upon dependency status.

Increase in impairment and level of disability necessary for a change in benefits – Nebraska

In Moss v. C&A Industries, a laborer employed by a temporary agency suffered serious injuries when a crane dumped a load of iron on him and he has not worked since. After there were complications from his first knee surgery, he was found to be permanently and totally disabled. Later, the court approved a right knee arthroplasty, noting the altered gait from the left knee surgery caused the injury.

When he sought a modification of benefits, the court found under Nebraska law a worker must show a change in impairment (physical condition) and disability (employability and earning capacity). Since there was no change in disability, the appellate court said the compensation court erred in modifying his award.

Withdrawal of partner does not nullify Workers’ Comp coverage – New York

In Matter of Smith v Park, a father and son operated a farm business as a partnership and subsequently, the father withdrew. A minor-aged boy was killed in an accident and his mother argued that there was no insurance in effect at the time. However, the appellate court ruled that a change in partners did not void the workers’ compensation insurance policy, nor the carrier’s acceptance of liability for the death of a teenage employee.

Injured employee cannot sue employer’s alter ego entity – New York

In Buchwald v. 1307 Porterville Road, an Appellate Court ruled that an employer’s immunity from civil suit is extended to the employer’s corporate alter egos. The employer had formed two single-member-owned LLCs on the same day for the purpose of running a horse farm. One entity owned the property and leased it to the other entity, which employed the injured worker. According to the court, an entity can establish itself as the alter ego of an employer by demonstrating that one of the entities controls the other, or that the two operate as a single integrated entity and, in this case, they integrated or comingled assets, had the same insurance policy, and were jointly operated. Since the real estate owner was the alter ego of the employer, it was also protected by exclusive remedy.

Fatal heart attack compensable in spite of health risk factors – New York

In Matter of Pickerd v. Paragon Envtl. Constr., Inc., a construction worker suffered a heart attack while assisting a coworker with the removal of an underground gasoline tank and died three days later. He was a smoker and had high cholesterol and there was conflicting testimony from physicians as to what caused the heart attack.

In awarding benefits, the appellate court noted the decedent’s work need not be the sole agent of death; it was sufficient if it was only a contributing factor.

Smoking break injury not compensable – North Carolina

A city employee, working on a utility crew, smoked his first e-cigarette during a lunch break in a city truck at a gas station and had a coughing fit. He stepped out of the truck, passed out, and injured his right hip, back, and head and could not return to his former position. He was diabetic and had not been taking his meds.

The case went through several appeals and, in each case, the court determined he was not eligible for benefits. His fall was due to underlying medical conditions and his personal decision to smoke. It was neither work-related nor dictated by his employer.


For new employee unexpected weight of box makes lifting injury compensable – North Carolina

In Doran v. The Fresh Market, Inc., et al.,a cheese specialist had worked in his position for nine weeks, and he described his job as routinely involving lifting boxes up to 25 pounds. He injured his shoulder and arm when he lifted a box that had no weight displayed and was heavier (40 lbs) than he thought. While the company argued against benefits, noting that a new worker would “basically have no regular routine,” the court observed that new conditions of employment don’t become part of a worker’s regular course of procedure until he “has gained proficiency performing in the new employment and become accustomed to the conditions it entails.”

Coming and going rule nixes foreman’s benefits – Pennsylvania

In Kush v. WCAB (Power Contracting Co.), The Commonwealth Court ruled that an electrical foreman was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for his injuries from a car accident that happened while traveling to a job site. He worked for two employers and managed multiple jobs during the day. Typically, he drove directly from his home to his assigned job site.

While managing nine jobs, he suffered injuries in a car accident driving to a job site where he had worked almost exclusively the week leading up to the accident. Compensation was denied based on the “coming and going rule” and upon appeal, the foreman argued he had no fixed place of employment and his employment contract covered travel time, exceptions recognized under the rule. However, the Commonwealth Court upheld the denial, noting he had a fixed place of employment because he was reporting to the same location each day until the project was complete and he was not paid for travel time.

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Legal Corner

ADA
Multi-month leave not required in 7th Circuit states – Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a 7th Circuit decision that the ADA doesn’t require employers to allow workers with disabilities to be off the job for two months or more. In Raymond Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft Inc, the 7th Circuit ruling that a multi-month leave of absence is beyond the scope of a reasonable accommodation under the ADA does not comply with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity’s position and disagrees with other courts.

The Severson decision allows employers in the 7th Circuit to, without violating the ADA, terminate the employment of workers who make months-long leave requests, but employers should be cautious about denying leaves of less than two months and obtain written confirmation of the requested time off. Under Wisconsin law, there is a more lenient interpretation of reasonable accommodation than under the ADA, so it important to consider the state statute as well.

Telecommuting a reasonable accommodation

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a $92,000 verdict and $18,184.32 for back pay and lost benefits award for a city utility attorney who was denied her request to telecommute during her 10-week bed rest for pregnancy complications. The utility had reversed its policy on telecommuting in 2011, requiring all lawyers to work onsite, but she had been allowed to work from home when she recovered from neck surgery, shortly after the policy change.

In her 23rd week of pregnancy, her doctors placed her on modified bed rest for approximately 10 weeks. She made an official accommodation request with supporting documentation, which was denied based on the argument that physical presence was an essential function of the job, and telecommuting created concerns about maintaining confidentiality.

She filed a lawsuit for pregnancy discrimination, failure to accommodate and retaliation under the ADA and was awarded $92,000 in compensatory damages and $18,184.32 for back pay and lost benefits by a jury. Upon appeal, the attorney testified that in her eight years of employment, she had never tried cases in court or taken depositions of witnesses, even though those duties were listed in her position description. The court found that she was adequately performing her duties telecommuting, as her job duties were not tied to her presence in the office. Mosby-Meachem v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, 6th Cir., No. 17-5483 (Feb. 21, 2018).

Workers’ Compensation
Worker entitled to attorney’s fees although benefits were less than he sought – Florida

In Portu v. City of Coral Gables, a fire fighter developed hypertension, but his impairment rating was based on those of a female patient and were adjusted from 35% to 4%. State statute provides that a worker will be entitled to a fee award if the claim is successfully prosecuted after being denied by his employer. Also, a fee award will not attach to a claim until 30 days after the date the claim petition was provided to the employer or carrier.

A judge denied the claim for attorney fees because the city paid benefits within 30 days of the revised impairment rating assessment, and it couldn’t have paid benefits earlier because it had no way of calculating the correct amount. An appellate court, however, found he was entitled to attorney’s fees because the carrier had denied the claim, the employee had successfully prosecuted the claim, and 30 days had elapsed from “the date the carrier … receives the petition.” It did not matter that the claim petition had sought benefits based on a higher impairment rating.

Police officer entitled to duty disability pension for injuries in training session – Illinois

In Gilliam v. Board of Trustees of the City of Pontiac Police Pension Fund, a police officer was injured during a voluntary bicycle patrol training session and was denied a line-of-duty pension because her disability had not been caused by an “act of duty.” An act of duty is defined as an act “inherently involving special risk, not ordinarily assumed by a citizen in the ordinary walks of life, imposed on a policeman.”

The decision went through a series of appeals and the courts determined that there are “special risks associated with bicycle patrol” and what mattered was whether she was injured while attempting a bicycle maneuver that involved a special risk.

No additional payment for provider who accepted partial payment from Medicaid – Minnesota

In Gist v. Atlas Staffing, a worker for a temporary employment agency was assigned to a position that involved working with silica-sand tanks. About two years later he stopped working and shortly after was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. He received treatment in Minnesota and Michigan, which was partially paid for by Medicaid and Medicare.

He then filed a workers’ comp claim, asserting the exposure to silica had caused the kidney failure and the treating medical center intervened seeking payment for the portion that Medicaid and Medicare had not paid. A workers’ compensation judge found in favor of benefits but noted the medical center should be paid “in accordance with all other state and federal laws.”

The case made its way to the state Supreme Court, which noted that while a treatment provider is entitled to a payment for medical services provided to an employee, to the extent allowed under the workers’ compensation medical fee schedule, even if the provider has already received partial payment from a private, non-employer insurer, in this case payment was received from Medicaid. A federal regulation requires providers who participate in Medicaid programs to accept a Medicaid payment as “payment in full.”

Award of schedule benefits overturned because summary judgment is not a way to resolve factual disputes – Nebraska

In Wynne v. Menard, a retail worker injured her knee and in a later accident injured her shoulder. The court awarded her temporary total disability benefits and ordered that the benefits continue until she reached maximum medical improvement, at which time she underwent a functional assessment evaluation. While the evaluator imposed no restrictions on her ability to sit, her treating physician said she could not sit for more than 10 minutes at a time, and a court-appointed vocational expert questioned this finding.

The state Supreme Court said there was a triable issue of fact as to the extent of her disability and the Workers’ Compensation Court erred by weighing the relative merits of the evidence and awarding her schedule benefits for her knee and shoulder since summary judgment is not a way to resolve factual disputes. The case was reversed and remanded.

Board can reject medical decision but not misread records – New York

In Matter of Gullo v. Wireless Northeast, the Workers’ Compensation Board rejected the opinion of the worker’s doctor because he had testified that he could not offer an opinion on causation since he was not familiar with the employee’s work duties. However, when he was advised of her work duties, he confirmed his opinion. The appellate court found that the Board overlooked this fact when it held that the doctor could not offer an opinion on causation. Thus, the denial of benefits was reversed.

Employer’s lien against subrogation recovery determined when settlement is made – New York

In Matter of Adebiyi v. New York City Housing Authority, an employee was injured when an ultra-high-pressure washer malfunctioned. He filed tort suits against the manufacturer and lessor of the pressure washer and received settlements of $1.6 million and $800,000. When he received judicial approval of the settlement with the lessor, the Housing Authority was granted a lien of over $222,000. At the time, the Workers’ Compensation Board was deciding whether to reclassify him as permanently and totally disabled and the employee argued the lien should not be determined until the decision was made. While a trial judge ruled in his favor, the appellate court noted the lien was appropriately determined at the time of the settlement without consideration for reclassification.

Failure of employer to timely contest claim doesn’t guarantee benefits – New York

In Matter of Nock v. New York City Department of Education, a lunch helper alleged she suffered a work-related back injury. A judge found that the department did not file a timely contest and awarded benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Board reversed and Appellate Division’s 3rd Department agreed, explaining that an employer’s failure to file a timely notice will bar it from raising certain defenses, but it does not relieve a worker of the burden to prove that the medical condition was caused by work.

Medical claim for non-FDA approved compound cream upheld – North Carolina

In Davis v. Craven County ABC Bd, an employee injured his ankle and after four years of treatment was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy and prescribed a compound cream. The carrier refused to pay for the cream, which was not approved by the FDA, or any further treatment from the prescribing physician. A new physician prescribed a similar, non-FDA-approved cream and the carrier again refused payment.

The North Carolina Industrial Commission affirmed a deputy’s order for the carrier to pay for the cream. The appellate court noted that the law did not limit the types of drugs that might reasonably be required solely to those that are FDA-approved. Reasonable treatment is a question that must be individually assessed in each case. “If requiring workers’ compensation providers to compensate injured workers for non-FDA-approved drugs is bad policy, it is for our General Assembly to change that law,” added the court.

No benefits for teacher’s stroke suffered while receiving unfavorable review – North Carolina

In Cohen v. Franklin County Schools, a high school principal received complaints about a math teacher and prepared a professional development plan. When he met with the teacher and the director of secondary education, he presented the plan, but she refused to sign it. After the meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes, the teacher experienced head pain and sought medical treatment three days later. It was determined she had had a stroke and she sought comp benefits.

The Industrial Commission denied the benefits and the Court of Appeals upheld the denial, noting that the meeting was neither unexpected nor inappropriate. “At most, Cohen received critical feedback that was unwelcome to her – an occurrence that is not unusual for an employee at any job.”

Uber limousine drivers are independent contractors – Pennsylvania

In what is believed to be the first ruling on the classification of Uber drivers under federal law, a U.S. District judge ruled that drivers for Uber’s limousine service, UberBlack, are independent contractors and not the company’s employees under federal law. The judge found that the drivers work when they want to and are free to nap, run personal errands or smoke cigarettes in between rides and, thus, the company does not exert enough control over the drivers for them to be considered employees. Razak v. Uber Technologies Inc.

Chiropractor cannot collect fee for office visits and same day treatments – Pennsylvania

In Sedgwick Claims Management Services v. Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Fee Review Hearing Office, an employer was obligated to pay reasonable and necessary medical expenses for an employee’s shoulder injury under a Compromise and Release Agreement. The employee saw a chiropractor as many as three times each week, who billed the TPA $78.00 per visit for office visits on dates on which he provided chiropractic treatment.

The TPA denied the office visit charges but paid for the other treatments. The state code permits payment for office visits “only when the office visit represents a significant and separately identifiable service performed in addition to the other procedure.” Thus, the Commonwealth Court overturned a hearing officer’s decision finding that a chiropractor was entitled to payment of the office visit fee, noting that payment for same day examinations was the exception, not the rule.

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HR Tip: DOL issues three opinion letters and fact sheet

After a long hiatus, the Department of Labor (DOL) has begun issuing opinion letters to assist employers and employees in interpreting laws.The first opinion letter, FLSA2018-18 addresses how employees without “normal working hours” should be compensated for travel time involving an overnight stay.

The letter provides two methods for determining an employee’s normal work hours and whether travel time is compensable. The employer may review the employee’s time records during the most recent month of regular employment and use the average start/end times during that time period. Employers also may negotiate with the employee or employee’s representative and agree to what constitutes the employee’s normal work hours.

The second letter addressed a situation in which an employee needs to take a 15-minute break every hour in an 8-hour workday due to a serious health condition (supported by medical certification). Most meal and rest break rules are governed by state law; federal law does not require meal or rest breaks for adult employees. However, for employers that offer short breaks (up to 20 minutes), the Fair Labor Standards Act does require employers to pay employees for that time and count that time as hours worked when calculating overtime pay.

In FLSA2018-19, the DOL clarifies that eight rest breaks given by an employer to accommodate an employee’s serious health condition predominantly benefit the employee and are not compensable as a result. However, these employees must be compensated for the same number of breaks taken by co-workers.

The third letter, CCPA2018-NA, considers whether certain lump-sum payments are considered “earnings” for purposes of the garnishment limitation in Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA). The letter specifically analyzes 18 types of lump-sum payments and specifies that lump-sum payments for workers’ compensation, insurance settlements for wrongful termination, and buybacks of company shares do not constitute “earnings” under the CCPA.

Higher education fact sheet

While cautioning that job titles alone are not enough to determine if someone fits within a white-collar exemption, the fact sheet on higher education and overtime pay under the FLSA states that a faculty member who teaches online or remotely may qualify for the exemption for teachers. This includes part-time faculty. Athletic coaches at colleges and universities also may qualify for the exemption, but not if their primary duties are recruiting.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Legal Corner

ADA
Employer takes proper steps to win approval of terminating employee taking opioids

In Sloan v. Repacorp, Inc. (S.D. Ohio February 27, 2018), an employee who worked 10% – 20% of his time on heavy machinery was taking both prescription morphine and non-prescription opioids. The company’s handbook requires all employees to notify management if they are taking nonprescription or prescription medications and testing positive for these could result in termination. However, the employee did not inform his supervisors.

After his company learned of his drug use, the employee voluntarily submitted to a drug test and tested positive for hydrocodone, the opiate found in Vicodin. When he was terminated less than two weeks later, he filed suit on charges including disability discrimination and retaliation under the ADA. He alleged he was disabled because of degenerative disc disease and arthritis in his neck and back and fired because of his disability.

The company, however, had made a good faith effort to involve him in the interactive process. It asked him to consult with his doctor to see if there were alternative medications or treatments for his pain that did not include opiates, but he refused. The court noted that he was not fired because he was a direct threat to himself or others, but because he failed to participate in the interactive process. Thus, he impeded the company’s ability to investigate the extent of his disability and determine whether a non-opiate medication could reasonably accommodate his disability.

This decision serves as a reminder that individualized assessments should always be made and an employee’s lack of cooperation during the interactive process is often a strong defense to both ADA discrimination and retaliation claims.


Workers’ Compensation
Statute of limitations for temporary disability awards clarified – California

In County of San Diego v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and Kyle Pike, a deputy sheriff suffered an injury to his right shoulder on July 31, 2010, and received benefits for five years up to July 31, 2015. He sought to reopen the petition and receive temporary disability benefits and a WCJ awarded the benefits and the Board agreed.

However, a dissenting panel member argued that the statute does not permit an award of temporary disability more than five years after the date of the injury. The Court of Appeal, 4th Appellate District, agreed, noting the language of the statute clearly indicates that temporary disability payments cannot be awarded for periods of disability occurring more than five years after the date of the underlying injury.

Interactive process and accommodation required after injury – California

In Bolanos v. Priority Business Services, an injured worker returned to work with restrictions and suffered a hernia while he was working in the office. He settled a workers’ comp claim for the hernia, but the company told him they could no longer accommodate him. He filed suit alleging disability discrimination and retaliation and a jury awarded him almost $40,000 and attorney fees of $231,470.50, plus $10,697.08 in costs.

The company argued that it could not show it engaged in the interactive process and reasonably accommodated the employee because a trial judge disallowed evidence of the workers’ compensation claim and settlement from consideration by the jury. However, the Court of Appeals found the company was not prejudiced by the trial judge’s ruling.

Implanted surgical hardware does not qualify as continued remedial care – Florida

Under Florida statutes, workers have two years from date of injury to file a worker’s compensation claim, but the time can be extended to one year after the date that the employer last paid indemnity benefits or furnished remedial care. In Ring Power Corp. v. Murphy, an employee who injured his back underwent spinal surgery and doctors used rods and screws to stabilize his spine while the bone grew back together.

A judge determined that a petition for benefits seeking additional medical treatment was not time barred because the company was continuously furnishing remedial treatment as long as the rods and screws remained within the worker’s body. The 1st District Court of Appeal disagreed noting that the pins and screws no longer served a purpose.

Worker’s suspected intoxication not factor when insurer fails to meet 120-day deadline to deny compensability – Florida

In Edward Paradise v. Neptune Fish Market/RetailFirst Insurance Co., an employee fell and fractured his hip while emptying the garbage. The employer was informed of the injury but did not report it to the insurer. The injury was complicated by infections and, ultimately, five surgeries were required. Ten months after the accident, the worker filed the first notice of the injury and the insurer elected to pay and investigate under Florida’s 120-day rule. The insurer did not file a notice denying compensability of the workplace injuries because of intoxication until almost 16 months after the injury. The court noted the failure to meet the 120-day deadline to deny the compensability of an injury claim waived the insurer’s intoxicated-worker rights.

Appellate court misconstrued “arising out of employment” requirement – Georgia

In Cartersville City Schools v. Johnson, a school teacher was denied benefits by the State Board of Workers’ Compensation’s Appellate Division for a fall incurred while she was teaching a fifth-grade class because the act of turning and walking was not a risk unique to her work. Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals noted, “For an accidental injury to arise out of the employment there must be some causal connection between the conditions under which the employee worked and the injury which (s)he received.”

It said the Appellate Division overlooked the proximate cause requirement and focused on the concept of equal exposure – that the teacher could have fallen outside of work while walking and turning, as she did while she was at work. Therefore, it erroneously concluded her injury resulted from an idiopathic fall and was not compensable. Although an employee could theoretically be exposed to a hazard outside of work that mirrors a risk faced while at work, it does not mean an injury resulting from the workplace hazard is non-compensable.

No death benefits for family in asbestos claim – Georgia

In Davis v. Louisiana-Pacific Corp., an employee, who worked at a Louisiana-Pacific facility in Alabama, moved to Georgia after leaving his position. Several years later, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and died. His family filed a claim for death benefits arguing that, although he was last exposed to asbestos in Alabama, his diagnosis and death occurred in Georgia.

While the court acknowledged that there was not a work-related “injury” until he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, the “accident” that resulted in his condition was his exposure to asbestos while he was employed in Alabama. Had the worker’s contract been executed in Georgia he would have been eligible for benefits, but it was made in Alabama and, therefore, the state did not have jurisdiction over the claim.

Children can sue over birth defects related to father’s on-the-job exposure – Illinois

The exclusive remedy afforded by worker’s comp does not apply to two teenagers who suffered birth defects as a result of their fathers’ workplace exposure to toxins because they were seeking damages for their own injuries, not their fathers’ noted the 1st District Court in reversing the Circuit Court of Cook County. The fathers’ employer, Motorola, had argued successfully to the Circuit Court that the birth defects were derivative of a work-related injury to their fathers’ reproductive systems. However, upon appeal, the 1st District Court noted the children weren’t employees of Motorola, and they were suing over their own injuries, not their fathers’.

Failure of company to get out-of-state coverage nixes death claim – Illinois

In Hartford Underwriters Insurance Co. v. Worldwide Transportation Shipping Co., the Iowa-based shipping company hired an Illinois truck driver who only worked in Illinois. After he died from a work-related injury, his widow filed an Application for Adjustment of Claim against Worldwide under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. Since the company only had workers’ comp coverage in Iowa at the time of the fatal accident and none of the insurer’s conduct suggested that coverage extended to out-of-state drivers, the insurer was not liable for death benefits.

Dismissal of tort claims against co-workers upheld – Missouri

Four cases that occurred during the period (2005 – 2012) when the comp law did not extend an employer’s immunity to co-workers were recently considered by the Supreme Court and the dismissal of the tort claims upheld. “For purposes of determining whether a co-employee can be liable for an employee’s injury between 2005 and 2012, the co-employee’s negligence is assumed,” the court said. The focus needs to be on whether the breached duty was part of the employer’s duty to protect employees from foreseeable risks in the workplace.

In Conner vs. Ogletree and Kidwell, Conner suffered an electrical shock when he came in contact with a live power line. The Supreme Court said the failure of his co-workers to ensure that the line was de-energized was a breach of the employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace. In Evans vs. Wilson and Barrett, the court said that a worker’s negligent operation of a forklift was also a breach of his employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace.

In McComb v. Nofus, the court said the decision of two supervisory employees to send a courier out into a dangerous winter storm was not a breach of any personal duty owed to McComb. In Fogerty v. Armstrong, the court said a worker’s misuse of a front loader was a breach of the employer’s duty of care.

Average weekly wage includes compensation, value of meals and lodging for former pro athlete – Nebraska

Nebraska’s statute states that wages do not include “board, lodging, or similar advantages received from the employer, unless the money value of such advantages shall have been fixed by the parties at the time of hiring.” In Foster-Rettig v. Indoor Football Operating, a professional indoor football player received $225 for each game he played in, plus an additional $25 per game if the team won or played well. The team also paid for him stay at a particular hotel in Omaha seven days a week during the football season and he got 21 meal vouchers for local restaurants.

His career was ended by a back injury and he filed a comp claim. At trial, he provided expert evidence about the value of the hotel room and meals. The Court of Appeals agreed with the compensation court that benefits should be based on an average weekly wage of $903.25, including an average salary of $231.25 per week from playing in games, plus an average of $350 per week for lodging and $320 per week for his meals.

Landlord liable for labor law claim even if tenant contracted for work without their knowledge – New York

In Gonzalez v. 1225 Ogden Deli Grocery Corp. a deli leased retail space, hired a painter to add a decoration to its sign, and set up the A-frame ladder. The painter fell from the ladder and filed a Labor Law action against the landlord for his injuries. Under Section 240(1), property owners have absolute liability for failure to protect workers from elevation-related risk and Section 241(6) imposes a non-delegable duty on owners to comply with the safety regulations of the code. Even if the deli contracted with the painter without the knowledge of the landlord, the landlord was liable, according to the Appellate Court. The landlord only presented unsworn statements from the deli owner and a deli worker and hearsay statements cannot defeat summary judgment if they are the only evidence.

Tort claim against co-employee can proceed – New York

In Siegel v. Garibaldi, an employee who was walking to the campus safety office to clock out was struck by a car driven by a co-worker, who was heading home. The injured worker received comp benefits and filed a tort action against his co-worker. While the appellate court noted that the law ordinarily limits a worker to a recovery of workers’ compensation benefits if he is injured by a co-worker, in this case, the driver was no longer acting within the scope of his employment. The road was open to the public and the risk of being struck in a crosswalk is a common risk shared by general members of the public.

Expert medical evidence is required to establish occupational disease claim – North Carolina

In Briggs v. Debbie’s Staffing, an employee operated a large mixing machine at a refractory manufacturer. Employees were required to wear respiratory protection masks because the process produced a lot of dust. After the employee was fired for attendance-related issues, he filed a workers’ compensation claim, asserting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. While a physician initially opined that the asthma was likely caused by the working conditions, he did not know the worker was a smoker and had worn a respirator mask and testified this might affect his opinion on causation.

The employee argued that his own testimony about the working conditions were sufficient to establish a claim, but the appellate court noted only an expert is competent to opine as to the cause of the injury and present medical evidence that the employment conditions placed the employee at a greater risk than members of the general public.

Slip and fall on shuttle bus compensable – Pennsylvania

In US Airways Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, a flight attendant was trying to place her luggage on the racks in a shuttle bus that was taking her from the airport to an employee parking lot, when she slipped on water on the floor and injured her foot. The airline argued that the incident did not take place on the airline’s property and that the shuttlebus was part of her commute to work, since it did not own the shuttlebus and did not require its employees to park in the parking lot. The Commonwealth Court ruled that her commute ended at the parking lot and work began on the shuttle, thus, her injury was compensable.

Worker was not permanently and totally disabled – Tennessee

For almost twenty years, the employee worked in a factory of General Motors. He suffered several on-the-job injuries and his last injury required surgery on his right shoulder. When he was cleared to return to work with restrictions, GM could not accommodate him and he never returned to work, nor sought other work. He filed a request for permanent total disability benefits, asserting that he had no vocational opportunities.

Two qualifying experts expressed conflicting opinions as to his vocational abilities and the employee said he did not consider himself unable to work, although not in the type of positions he had held in the past. The Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel ruled against the benefits, noting it’s the trial court’s discretion to accept the testimony of one expert over another and to consider an injured employee’s testimony concerning his abilities and limitations.

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Legal Corner

FMLA
Adverse actions shortly after medical leave spell trouble for employer

In Schram v. Dow Corning Corp., E.D. Mich., while traveling for business a long-term employee was accidentally struck on the head by another passenger’s luggage, causing a detached retina that required immediate surgery. She had recently changed positions within the company and her new manager asked her to postpone surgery, but she refused and was off work for approximately three weeks. Although no paperwork was filed for FMLA leave, Dow allowed the time off.

When she returned to work, she alleged the manager excluded her for meetings and began questioning her work, moved her office, refused accommodations for ongoing retina issues, and ridiculed her for vision problems in a meeting. Shortly thereafter, she was told her position was eliminated and she found another temporary position in the company for one year and then was terminated. Meanwhile, her former position was filled by a younger male employee with less marketing experience at a salary $40,000 higher than her old salary.

After leaving Dow, she sued alleging retaliation under the FMLA and Michigan workers’ compensation law, as well as disability and gender discrimination under Michigan law. The district court found in her favor, noting the timing of her injury, leave of absence, and her “position elimination” was sufficient to place her retaliation claims before a jury. The judge also found that the assignment of her identical role and job duties to a younger male with significantly less marketing experience could provide sufficient basis for a jury to find in favor on her discrimination claims.
Leave not available for insomnia following death of pet

In Buck v. Mercury Marine Corp., E.D. Wis., a machinist asked for, and was granted, a day off because he was upset that he had had to put his dog of 13 years to sleep. The next day, he called his supervisor and explained he had not been able to sleep since putting his dog to sleep and asked for the day off and was documented for an unexcused absence. The same day, he sought treatment and was diagnosed with “situational insomnia” and the doctor wrote him a note that he was in the clinic for evaluation of situational insomnia. Despite the note, the absence remained unexcused. Over the next three months, the employee accumulated several other unexcused absences that resulted in his termination and he filed suit under the FMLA.

While the court held that inability to sleep caused by the passing of a pet could arguably constitute a “serious health condition,” it noted the employee failed to show that his condition qualified under the act. Other than the one visit to the clinic, there was no treatment, no prescriptions, and the doctor’s note did not say he was unable to perform the functions of his job. Although the company did not provide the employee directly with information about his FMLA rights or provide him a copy of its FMLA policy, it did not mean the company had violated the act, since the act requires employers to provide an employee with notice only “when the employer acquires knowledge that an employee’s leave may be for an FMLA-qualifying reason.”
Other
Supreme Court ruling may mean employees have more time to file state-law claims

While employees can file a single lawsuit in federal court for both federal and state-law claims against an employer, when judges dismiss the federal claims, they can also decline to hear the state claims. The employee can refile the claims in state court, but lower courts have disagreed about how much time employees have to do so.

Federal law provides that state-law claims will be “tolled” or paused while the claims are pending in federal court and for a period of 30 days after they are dismissed-unless state law provides for a longer tolling period. In Artis v. District of Columbia, the relevant state law limitations period had already passed when the employee’s claims were dismissed by the federal judge. The employer, therefore, argued that the worker only had a 30-day grace period to file her claims in state court.

However, the employee argued the tolling period began when the claim was first filed in federal court. In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed and held that the employee had 30 days plus whatever time had remained under the state statute of limitations when the federal lawsuit was initially filed.
Workers’ Compensation
Landmark decision means employers can face civil penalties for safety violations – California

In Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC v. Superior Court of Orange County, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of prosecutors to seek civil penalties under unfair competition statutes against employers violating work-safety statutes. While the company argued that the state plan for occupational safety and health should govern how employers with work-safety violations are treated, the court sided with prosecutors who argued they were targeting unfair business practices that arose from work-safety violations, not for the work-safety violations themselves. Although the decision is considered a landmark, it essentially validated an avenue that prosecutors have been using to go after unsafe corporate employers for decades.

Grubhub driver ruled independent contractor; judge urges change in gig economy laws – California

When a delivery driver was fired by Grubhub for failure to make deliveries while on the app, he sued for back wages, overtime and expense reimbursement. While he received a fee for each delivery, the company also paid him a minimum hourly rate and, therefore, he argued he was an employee. Grubhub claimed that they are primarily a software development company, not a food delivery service, so delivery drivers are not key to their business and they did not have enough control over their drivers to classify them as employees. Noting the need to update the laws relating to the gig economy, the judge said overall Grubhub did not have control over his work and under current laws he is an independent contractor.

Treatment must be by authorized doctor – Florida

In Hernandez v. Hialeah Solid Waste Department, the treating physician prescribed facet joint injections and the claims adjuster approved, but with a different physician. The 1st District Court of Appeal said the statutes allow an employer to transfer the care of a worker from an attending provider only if the worker is not making appropriate progress in recuperation and the refusal to allow the treating physician to do the injections was “a de facto deauthorization of the doctor” and improper.

Court explains interest rate on benefits when employers unsuccessfully challenge awards – Illinois

In Dobbs Tire & Auto v. IWCC, two employers unsuccessfully contested the award of benefits to two injured workers. The employers paid the awards plus interest, one at 0.11% and the other at 0.13%. The employees contested the rates in different county courts, and one court dismissed the complaint, while the other found the interest rate should be 9%. The cases were consolidated upon appeal.

While the Appellate Court explained that the Code of Civil Procedure Section 2-1303 provides that judgments recovered in any court will draw interest at a rate of 9% per year until satisfied, it only applies “if and when the arbitrator’s award or commission’s decision becomes an enforceable judgment,” because the employer has failed to pay. An employer that makes payment of an award, accrued installments, and Section 19(n) interest before the injured worker files a motion to enforce is not subject to the 9% interest. Section 19(n) provides for interest at a rate equal to the yield on indebtedness issued by the United States government with a 26-week maturity next previously auctioned on the day on which the decision is filed.

After firing an adjuster following a comp claim, insurance company faces ADA and retaliatory termination case – Illinois

In Buhe v. Amica Mutual Insurance Co., a federal judge ruled against an insurance company’s summary judgment in a suit filed by a former adjuster fired after an 11-month, unresolved workers’ comp claim. The adjuster fell off a roof while investigating a homeowner’s claim and suffered injuries to his lower limbs and shoulder, requiring several surgeries and rehabilitation.

The insurance company knew that the adjuster ran a mortgage company on the side.

While he said someone else oversaw the office activities of his mortgage firm when he was injured, an adjuster said surveillance revealed he was working for his own company while collecting workers’ compensation. He filed for bankruptcy but did not include his comp payments, claiming ignorance. He then filed the suit against Amica, asserting claims of discrimination under the ADA when the company allegedly failed to accommodate him, and retaliatory discharge and promissory estoppel, related to his bankruptcy filing. Amica followed with a summary judgment against his claims.

A judge ruled in part against the summary judgment, finding merit in both claims related to the ADA and retaliatory termination: “…A disability leave of absence that an employee seeks as a reasonable accommodation ‘is a factual issue well suited to a jury determination,'” his ruling stated. He also found that “a reasonable jury could conclude that the real reason for the termination was not the violation of company policy but the workers’ compensation claim.”

“Unusual strain” from daily work routine is compensable – Missouri

In Clark v. Dairy Farmers of America, a woman worker who was the shortest worker in the plant broke her rib and doctors discovered she had a lesion near the fracture. Further tests revealed that the lesion was Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare malignancy which can weaken a bone to the point where it can fail under a force that is less than normal. While an administrative law judge denied the claim for comp, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission reversed and the Court of Appeals agreed.

A worker is entitled to benefits if there is “personal injury” that was caused by an “accident.” Although the worker was injured performing her normal job duties, this time was unusual because she felt and heard a pop in her chest and she could not raise her right arm.

Treating physician’s opinion does not have to be given greater weight than others – Missouri

In Blackwell v. Howard Industries, the Court of Appeals ruled that a worker who suffered an elbow injury and who refused to participate in physical therapy (PT) sessions was not entitled to permanent total disability benefits. The Court of Appeals noted the worker received varying levels of treatment, evaluation and medical records reviews from at least 15 different physicians.

All of the doctors, except for the treating doctor, concluded that the best form of treatment was PT. While a treating physician’s opinion is “of great import,” the court said, “the commission is not required to abide by it or required to give it any greater weight than other physicians’ opinions.”

Employer does not have to pay for “unfamiliar and undocumented” treatments – Nebraska

In Escobar v. JBS USA, the Court of Appeals ruled that a worker was entitled to temporary total disability benefits for a back injury but said the compensation court had erred in determining which medical bills the employer had to pay. A tenderloin puller, the worker allegedly injured his back and received treatment from an onsite nurse but continued to complain of pain and saw several doctors, with one stating that the subjective back pain was out of proportion to the physical examination.

The compensation court determined that he suffered a compensable back injury and that he was entitled to temporary total disability benefits. However, the Court found that the compensation court ordered payment for “unfamiliar and undocumented” treatments that were not clearly related to the work injury.

State has jurisdiction for resident injured while working for out of state employer – New York

In Galster v. Keen Transport, an appellate court ruled that the state workers’ compensation system had jurisdiction over a resident’s claim for an out-of-state accident while working for an out-of-state employer. A trucker who resided in New York worked for a Pennsylvania company, making deliveries of highway construction equipment all over the U.S. He injured his shoulder while shifting equipment in his trailer in Illinois.

After his injury, the company secured medical care for him in New York, as well as a light-duty job. The trucker filed a comp claim in New York, while the company filed one in Pennsylvania and contested the New York claim. The Appellate Division’s 3rd Department affirmed lower court decisions, noting New York has jurisdiction over a claim for an injury occurring outside the state where there are “sufficient significant contacts” between the employment and New York.

Compensation for exacerbation of pre-existing fibromyalgia denied – New York

In Park v. Corizon Health Inc., a worker was exposed to pepper spray while working in a prison when a guard discharged a canister to subdue an inmate. She sought medical care for her symptoms, returned briefly to work, and then took off almost one year. She filed a claim, asserting that her exposure to pepper spray had exacerbated her pre-existing fibromyalgia.

The Workers’ Compensation Board overturned the award by a workers’ compensation law judge, finding there was no causal connection. The Appellate Division’s 3rd Department said the board determines the factual issue of whether a causal relationship exists, and its determination will not change when supported by substantial evidence. The court noted there was conflicting medical testimony, there is no known medical cause of fibromyalgia, and that its symptoms are fleeting and vary considerably among individuals. Therefore, the Board’s decision to credit the opinion of the IME rheumatologist over that of the other physicians was entirely reasonable.

Construction worker receives comp for repetitive lifting injury – New York

In Garcia v. MCI Interiors, an employee worked as a plasterer in the construction industry for over 30 years. He filed a comp claim asserting he had suffered injuries to his neck and back from his repetitive heavy lifting. A neurosurgeon and the treating physician found that his chronic back pain was caused by “repetitive use at work.”

The Appellate Division’s 3rd Department said that a worker can establish an occupational disease by demonstrating a recognizable link between the medical condition and a distinctive feature of employment and with no contradictory medical evidence, the worker had succeeded in doing so.

Commission must review its denial of benefits to worker in light of recent Supreme Court ruling – North Carolina

In Neckles v. Harris Teeter, a meat cutter injured his hip, back, and arm at work and a functional capacity evaluation revealed that he would not be able to return to his job. A vocational rehabilitation specialist reported it would be “difficult” for him to secure a job in an open job market because of his limited work history, transferrable skills and age.

A few years later the company filed a motion asserting that the worker was no longer disabled. The Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of the Industrial Commission, which said the worker had not met his burden of proving that it would be futile for him to look for work. When appealed to the Supreme Court, it ordered the matter remanded to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of the 2017 decision in Wilkes v. City of Greenville. In Wilkes, the Supreme Court ruled that a worker who can demonstrate a total incapacity for employment because of physical and vocational limitations does not also need to show that a job search would be futile. The Court of Appeals noted the case has to go back to the commission to make specific findings addressing the worker’s wage-earning capacity in light of his pre-existing and coexisting conditions.

Commonwealth Court ruling denying benefits for mental injury is published – Pennsylvania

The ruling in Frankiewicz v. WCAB (Kinder Morgan) denied benefits to a chemical operator for a psychiatric injury from exposure to a diesel fuel leak. Under state law, a claim must involve a combination of physical and mental injuries in order for mental injuries to be compensable, unless the mental injury was the result of exposure to “abnormal working conditions.” In this case, it was found that the worker only experienced transient symptoms that did not constitute a physical injury. These included headache, nausea, violent vomiting, choking, a runny nose and watery eyes after he was exposed to a discharge of diesel fuel from a plant a mile away. Following the incident, he began to suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and depression and doctors agreed the exposure had caused a mental injury.

The courts determined that he did not prove that he had been exposed to an abnormal working condition and the “transient” physical symptoms were insufficient to support an application of the physical-mental standard.

Failure to undergo surgery does not warrant shift in liability from employer to the Second Injury Fund – Tennessee

In Tankersley v. Batesville Casket Co., a long-term employee injured his arm and shoulder and surgery was recommended. However, the worker had congestive heart failure and decided not to undergo surgery. He returned to work with restrictions but eventually was laid off because the company had no work within his restrictions. A vocational counselor determined he had no transferrable skills and was 100% vocationally disabled because of the restrictions.

When a judge apportioned 90% of the liability for the award to the company and 10% to the state’s Second Injury Fund, the company appealed arguing the disability was caused in large part by pre-existing medical conditions. The court found that the ruling was based solely on the arm and shoulder injuries and the vocational counselor’s findings were based on the restrictions, thus the evidence did not preponderate against the trial judge’s apportionment decision.

Temp workers can choose to sue or apply for workers’ comp – Wisconsin

In Ehr v. West Bend Mut. Ins. Co. (In re Estate of Rivera), the Court of Appeals issued a decision that temporary workers have the right to file a suit against their temporary employer if they do not make a workers’ compensation claim. The case involved Carlos Rivera, a temporary employee of Alex Drywell, who was killed on the job in a one-car accident. Assigned to work for Alpine Insulation, Rivera was in an Alpine-owned vehicle, driven by an Alpine employee when the car crashed. The Alpine employee was later found to be at fault in the accident.

His estate filed a wrongful death suit against Alpine and the insurance company rather than claim death benefits under workers’ comp. The appeals court overturned a lower court and said that the exclusive remedy portion of the Workers’ Compensation Act doesn’t bar a temporary employee from bringing a claim against their temporary employer, if they had not made a claim for compensation, even if they were a “loaned employee.” The court determined that his estate could not bring a suit against Alex Drywall but was free to bring a suit against Alpine since Alpine was not technically his employer.

It’s expected that the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

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Legal Corner

ADA
EEOC settles suit with New York Con Ed for $800,000

New York City and Westchester County’s electricity and gas utility, Consolidated Edison Co. of New York Inc., will pay $800,000 to resolve a disability discrimination suit under the ADA. The EEOC said Con Ed’s doctors violated the ADA by refusing to medically approve qualified applicants to begin employment because of their disabilities, even though they could perform the jobs for which they applied, and by performing medical exams of applicants without first giving them a conditional job offer. The EEOC said also the utility’s doctors imposed improper medical restrictions on some existing employees with disabilities that reduced their earnings and, in one case, led to termination.


Workers’ Compensation

Exclusive remedy bars health care worker from suing employer for patient attack – California

In Mendiola v. Crestwood Behavioral Health, a health care worker contended her employer did not inform staff about a patient who had a history of attacking women and had misrepresented her job duties. The court said that all of her claims, whether based on misrepresentation or concealment, were related to workplace safety and, thus, were covered by the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp.


Insurance companies can recoup benefits from third-party award – California

In Duncan v. WalMart Stores Inc., an employee of a marketing firm fell and injured herself while on business in WalMart. The marketing firm’s insurer, The Hartford, paid roughly $115,000 for medical care and $37,000 in indemnity benefits. The individual successfully sued WalMart and WalMart was ordered to pay her $355,000, which went toward reimbursing her for medical expenses, and pain and suffering. Then,The Hartford sought to take $152,000 from her award.

Her attorneys argued that she hadn’t been awarded wage-loss benefits, so The Hartford wasn’t entitled to take money to reimburse the indemnity benefits it had paid. However, the court followed the legal precedent that allows employers and carriers to seek reimbursement for their workers’ compensation expenses “totally separate and apart from the injured worker’s actions.” The court wrote that allowing insurance companies to recoup their expenses before workers get a chance to see the award is “consistent with the overall purpose of the workers’ compensation system” because of the quid pro quo the system is founded upon.


Exempt corporate officer of subcontractor cannot sue general contractor – Florida

In Gladden v. Fisher Thomas, Inc., an officer of a Florida corporation, who elected to be exempt from workers’ compensation coverage and who was hired by a subcontractor on a construction project, may not sue the general contractor and other subcontractors in tort for the serious injuries he sustained when he fell from the second floor. The trial court concluded the officer was an “employee” under the Workers’ Compensation Law at the time of the accident, notwithstanding his exemption. The defendants were, therefore, entitled to workers’ compensation immunity.

Upon appeal, the court noted that electing the corporate officer exemption did not remove the officer from the entire workers’ compensation scheme and open the door to actions in tort against individuals and entities who would otherwise be entitled to workers’ compensation immunity.


Standards for expert witness testimony in FELA same as personal injury cases – Georgia

In Smith v. CSX Transportation, the Court of Appeals ruled that the same statutory standard for evaluating the reliability of an expert witness applies in cases brought under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) as in any other personal injury case. An employee, who had filed workers’ comp cases for a back injury, a right knee injury and carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands over his 32-year career, filed suit against his company when he developed pain in his shoulders.

He claimed the company had violated the FELA by exposing him to “harmful repetitive motion, cumulative trauma, awkward work postures, vibration and other harmful conditions” that resulted in injuries to both shoulders. His claim was supported by a doctor whom the judge determined did not present reliable evidence.

The Georgia Court of Appeals said it was not an abuse of discretion for the trial judge to exclude the doctor’s testimony from evidence. Although FELA relaxes the standard of causation that would otherwise apply in personal injury cases, the court said that doesn’t mean the standard for evaluating the admissibility of expert testimony is similarly relaxed.


Second Injury Fund shares in the liability for back injury – Missouri

In Barnes v. Treasurer, an employee of an airport parking and shuttle company injured his back in 2009 and returned to work without restrictions. He asked to receive additional care, but was refused and began seeing a chiropractor and neurosurgeon, who recommended surgery. When the company refused to pay, he went through his private insurance, but only received authorization for one-level fusion, even though the doctor had recommended a two-level fusion. Following the surgery, the doctor imposed strict limits on his activity and the company eventually terminated him and he has not worked since.

This was not the first time he had injured his back; in 2000, at another employer, he suffered a back injury in a motor vehicle accident. There were two experts who opined that the permanent and total disability was a result of the last work injury, and there was one expert who opined that at least some of the disability was attributable to the 2000 accident. While a judge ruled that the company was liable for 100% of the costs, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission disagreed, finding he was disabled by the combined effect of his pre-existing disabilities and the 2009 back injury.


Benefits allowed for staph infection related to epidural injections for lumbar injury – Mississippi

In Lowe’s Home Ctrs., LLC v. Scott, an appellate court noted weighing of the evidence, including expert testimony, was the responsibility of the Workers’ Compensation Commission. The Commission had given greater weight to the testimony of the employee’s medical expert who opined that, more likely than not, the worker’s staph infection was causally connected to epidural injections the worker received as treatment for a work-related back injury, and, thus, the decision to award benefits will stand.


Standards for evaluating appropriateness of vocational rehabilitation plans set by high court – Nebraska

In Anderson v. EMCOR Group, an injured employee had reached maximum medical improvement and was entitled to a vocational rehabilitation evaluation. The counselor determined that the company had no jobs appropriate for the worker and an Internet search of appropriate jobs revealed a much lower pay scale. The counselor, therefore, recommended a vocational training program. The Workers’ Compensation Court ordered the implementation of the plan, the company appealed, and the case ended up in the Supreme Court.

The Court noted that the purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act is the restoration of an injured employee to gainful employment, although, it acknowledged it has never defined what it means to restore a worker to suitable or gainful employment. Having cited Alabama case law in previous decisions, the Court adopted the definitions used in Alabama, which provide that “restore” means “to put back.” Since the plan was geared toward putting the injured worker back to employment paying wages similar to those earned prior to the injury and in a field that would be compatible with his age, education and aptitude, the Supreme Court said approval of the plan was not “clearly wrong.”


Worker with PTSD entitled to further disability – New York

In the Matter of Perez v. SN Gold Corp, an employee of a jewelry manufacturer was robbed at gunpoint. It was found he was entitled to PTSD benefits. Later, a WC judge and The Workers’ Compensation Board found the employee had a further causally related disability. The company appealed, but the court found substantial evidence to support the finding and noted it found no error in the exclusion of the independent medical examiner’s report at the proceedings because the company had failed to comply with the law, which required that a copy of an IME report be provided to a worker’s treating doctor on the same day that the worker, the board and the employer’s insurance carrier receive it.


Property owner and general contractor liable for fall from scaffold – New York

In Yaucan v. Hawthorne Village, a New York appellate court ruled that a property owner and general contractor were liable under Labor Law Section 240(1) for a construction worker’s fall from a scaffold, and that they were not entitled to summary judgment dismissing the worker’s Section 241(6) claim. The injured employee who fell from the third floor claimed the scaffolding shifted when it was hit by a large piece of material and, although he wore a safety harness and lifeline, it was too long to stop him from hitting the ground. The court said the employee was entitled to summary judgment on his Section 240(1) claim, since he established that he was not provided with adequate safety equipment to prevent him from falling and it was the owners and general contractor’s duty to provide the safety devices necessary to protect workers from the risks inherent in elevated work sites.


Time limits for filing claims against guaranty fund upheld – North Carolina

In Booth v. Hackney Acquisition Co., an employee who died from lung cancer in 2008 worked for a company whose Workers’ Comp carrier was declared insolvent in 2003. His widow asserted the cancer was caused by his exposure to welding rod fumes during the course of his employment and filed a claim with the Insurance Guaranty Association. There are two sections of the statute that set time limits for such claims, but the widow contended the statutes violate principles of due process and equal protection for workers with occupational diseases that do not manifest within the time limits. The Court of Appeals, however, found both sections constitutionally valid, since they further the state’s legitimate interest in protecting the integrity of the guaranty fund.


Ambulatory surgery centers subject to same fee schedules as hospitals – North Carolina

The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that Ambulatory Surgery Centers (ASC) are not separate and legally distinct from hospitals, overturning a Wake County Superior Court decision that invalidated a new Medicare-based fee schedule for ASCs.


Employer who alleged violation of safety rules led to fatality must pay benefits to widow – Pennsylvania

In M.A. Beech Corp. v. WCAB (Mann), a bridge inspector suffered a fatal injury when he was pinned between an aerial lift and the beam of an overpass. While the company contended that the use of the lift had been a violation of the company’s safety rules, lower courts awarded benefits to the injured employee’s widow.

Upon appeal, the Commonwealth Court noted a company that relies on an alleged violation of safety rules must prove that the worker’s injury was caused by the violation of the rule, that the worker knew of the rule, and that the worker was engaged in an activity that was wholly foreign to his employment. The court did not find sufficient evidence that a safety rule was violated and also noted it was appropriate to grant benefits to the widow, since her husband was attempting to perform his duties as an inspector at the time of his fatal accident.


Widow receives benefits for unknown occupational exposure – Tennessee

The Supreme Court’s Workers’ Compensation Panel upheld an award of death benefits to a steelworker’s widow whose husband went to Stockertown, Pennsylvania, to work on an installation project at a cement plant and suddenly became very ill. Although he sought treatment at a walk-in clinic, his condition deteriorated and he was hospitalized and went into a coma. Doctors suspected he had pneumonia and septic shock, a serious infection that affects organ function and transferred him to another hospital, but en route he had a heart attack. He died a month later.

The widow petitioned for death benefits, arguing her husband had inhaled something on the job that caused his sudden decline and the treating physicians supported her argument. The trial court ruled, and the Supreme Court of Tennessee Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel upheld in the widow’s favor.

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Legal Corner

ADA
Another court decision scales back right to take more leave after exhausting FMLA

Last month, we reported on the 7th US Circuit Appeals decision in the Severson case. That same appellate court recently ruled in Golden v. IHA that extended leave beyond what the FMLA requires is not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

In this case, an employee with breast cancer, required surgery and an extended leave. When her 12 weeks of FMLA leave was about to expire, she sought an unspecified period of leave, but her employer declined to grant more than four additional weeks of leave. When she could not return from work after 16 weeks off, she was terminated.

It’s important to note that in both cases the employee’s return to work date was unclear. Employers should conduct an individualized assessment of each leave request to determine whether a leave of absence or intermittent leave is reasonable and effective in helping the employee return to work. There is a split in authority among the courts that the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately may have to resolve.


FMLA

Managers’ inaction can be costly

In Boadi v. Center for Human Development an employee was hospitalized unexpectedly for a mental health condition and her son notified her employer four times over the course of one week, including her supervisor, the supervisor’s boss, and the boss’s boss. Although he explained that his mother was unintelligible, a supervisor told him it was unacceptable for him to call instead of his mother. The same supervisor informed the vice president of Human Resources that the employee was hospitalized and later reported her a “no call/no show” when she failed to personally call about her continued absences. A termination letter was written and when the employee returned with her doctor’s medical certification, she was told her employment had been terminated because she abandoned her job.

During the case, the court specifically commented that the managers were “not trained on the FMLA.” Noting the lack of training, the court found that the employer willfully violated the FMLA, and awarded liquidated damages, which doubled the back-pay award to $300,000.

 

Workers’ Compensation
Comp’s ‘going and coming’ rule determines employer’s vicarious liability – California

In Morales-Simental v. Genentech, the court explained that an employer generally will be held vicariously liable for the tortious conduct of its employees within the scope of their employment. However, case law recognizes that an employee commuting to or from work is typically outside the scope of employment, and the employer is not liable for the employee’s torts while traveling. There are some exceptions, but the court found they did not apply and, therefore, the employer could not be held vicariously liable for the alleged negligence of an employee in causing a fatal car accident.


Convicted of fraud, worker still entitled to benefits – California

In Pearson Ford v. WCAB (Hernandez), a worker accidentally slammed a trunk lid on his hand, but did not break any bones. He received workers’ comp for pain and later began wearing a sling and telling his treatment providers that he was unable to use his left arm and hand. A private investigator shot video of him removing his sling after attending doctor’s appointments, using his left hand to drive, carrying groceries, and lifting a washing machine. He pleaded guilty to making materially false statements for the purpose of obtaining workers’ compensation benefits.

Later, a workers’ compensation judge issued, and the Appeals Board approved, an award of permanent partial disability benefits. The court reasoned there was a compensable injury that was not directly connected to the worker’s fraudulent misrepresentation.


Failure to train in lockout/tagout leads to $310,000 settlement – California

Growers Street Cooling has agreed to pay $310,000 in costs and civil penalties, maintain and implement written hazardous energy control procedures, and conduct proper training as a result of legal action brought by the Monterey County District Attorney following a 2013 worker fatality at the Salinas-based produce-cooling company. The worker had been working at the company as a machine operator for only 16 days prior to the accident and was never trained on lockout/tagout procedures. Nor did the company maintain a written lockout/tagout policy or training program; thus, they were charged with systematically violating worker safety laws.


Comp coverage uncertain for off-duty police officers at Las Vegas concert shooting – California

Due to some muddy language in the state’s Labor Code, it is uncertain if municipalities are required or even allowed to pay to treat off-duty police who chose independently to intervene in an out-of-state emergency. Orange County rejected workers’ compensation claims from four sheriff’s deputies injured in the shooting and more claims are expected. More than 200 Southern California police officers attended the Las Vegas concert. Had the incident occurred in California, they would be covered, but the Labor Code makes no mention of out-of-state tragedies.


Employer can terminate benefits when employee returns to “baseline” – Georgia

In EMC v. McDuffie, an employee had a significant disability to his knee at the time he took the job, which he did not disclose, and he suffered a subsequent knee injury when he stepped in a hole while working. The Supreme Court ruled that when an employee has a pre-existing condition that limits work capacity, as soon as the employee recovers from “the aggravation”, the employer’s responsibility for workers’ compensation ceases. The court did not define baseline.

This is an important decision because it’s well established that employers are responsible for an aggravation of a pre-existing condition only until the aggravation ends, but there wasn’t a case that said when an employee still has restrictions, which they had before, the employer is not responsible.


Meretricious relationship results in disqualification of death benefits – Georgia

In Sanchez v. Carter, a state appellate court cited a 1990 decision of the Supreme Court of Georgia, Williams v. Corbett, and found within the context of a workers’ compensation claim, a meretricious relationship does not entitle a dependent to death benefits, even if actual dependency exists. In this case, the couple had lived together for 13 years, but never legally married.


Court reduces award in retaliatory discharge claim – Illinois

Two employees suffered work-related injuries and were fired for failing to report to work after an independent medical examiner (IME) cleared them to return to their jobs. They filed suit, asserting they had been discharged in retaliation for having pursued workers’ compensation claims. The Illinois Appellate Court ruled that an employer may not rely solely on an IME in terminating the employee for failing to return to work or for failing to call in his absences when the opinion conflicts with the employee’s doctor. But, the worker must still prove his discharge was causally related to his exercising of workers’ compensation rights.

The men then filed an amended complaint and pursued separate jury trials. While a jury found in favor of the employer in one case, in Francek v. Dominick’s Finer Foods, the jury awarded $156,315.50 in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages, plus court costs to the employee. However, the appellate court concluded that the award of punitive damages was unconstitutionally excessive (16:1) under federal due process standard and concluded that a 9:1 ratio would be appropriate.


Workers’ comp precludes security’s guard personal injury suit – Missouri

In Kayden v. Ford Motor Co., U.S. Security Associates provided security services under a contract for a Ford assembly plant. A security guard slipped and fell in the parking lot, where it was determined a pothole was not repaired properly. After she filed a personal injury suit against Ford, Ford moved for summary judgment, asserting that it qualified as the employer for purposes of the Missouri Workers’ Compensation Act and the court agreed.


Exception to schedule loss of use (SLU) allows apportionment – New York

While generally a judge or board may not apportion a PPD award based upon a preexisting condition that did not prevent the employee from effectively performing his or her job duties at the time of a subsequent work-related injury, apportionment may be applicable if the medical evidence establishes that the prior injury – had it been compensable – would have resulted in an SLU finding. In the Matter of the Claim of Sanchez v. STS Steel, there was medical expert opinion that a non-work related surgical procedure involving the excision of the meniscus right knee would have resulted in a 7.5% SLU; therefore, apportionment was appropriate.


Estate can pursue wrongful death claim – New York

In Assevero v. Hamilton & Church Properties, an employee fell from a ladder and filed a Labor Law action asserting an unsecured extension ladder shifted as he was descending and caused the fall. A trial judge granted summary judgement to the employer, and the employee appealed. While the appeal was pending, the employee died from an overdose of pain medication prescribed for his injuries. The Appellate Division’s 2nd Department overturned the grant of summary judgment for the employer and the estate’s administrator filed a motion to amend the complaint to include a cause of action for wrongful death, which was allowed.


Widow of worker killed by street sweeper awarded $41.5m – New York

The widow of a New York City Department of Sanitation worker killed by an out-of-control street sweeper won a $41.5 million negligence lawsuit. The New York Post reports that a Queens jury recently awarded the sum to the widow for the death of her 43-year-old husband who was struck and killed by a colleague’s vehicle inside a garage in 2014. The city plans to pursue legal options to reduce the award.


Death from accidental overdose compensable – North Carolina

In Brady v. Best Buy Co., an injured worker was taking narcotics to treat his compensable low back injury, additional medication for treatment of depression, and other prescription medications. The Court of Appeals upheld a reward of benefits to the beneficiaries noting the unchallenged finding that pain medications established the death as compensable, regardless of whether his medications for depression had a contributory effect.


Going and coming rule does not bar death benefits in case of donut shop manager – Pennsylvania

In Rana v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd, an employee worked as a manager at one of the employer’s three donut shops, but occasionally was called upon to handle issues at the other two shops. He died in a car crash traveling from his residence to one of the other shops to potentially fill in for a kitchen employee who had fallen ill during a work shift. The court found that the manager was a traveling employee and, therefore, his dependent’s death benefits claim was not barred by the going and coming rule. It also noted even if he was considered a stationary employee, the claim would still be compensable, since he was engaged in a special assignment on behalf of the employer.


Commonwealth Court overturns denial of benefits based on ‘going and coming’ rule – Pennsylvania

In Fields v. WCAB (Carl G’s Total Cleanouts), an employee had been working at the same job site doing demolition work for two or three weeks. He and a colleague took a company truck to drop off debris at a scrapyard (they received a percentage of the metal hauled as part of wages) and then the colleague planned to drop the employee at home and return the truck to the employer. En route, the employee sustained injuries in an auto accident. A workers’ compensation judge determined, and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board affirmed, that he had a fixed place of work, and the accident occurred during his commute home from the workplace, and was not compensable under the going and coming rule.

Upon appeal, the Commonwealth Court noted exceptions to the going and coming rule include when a worker’s employment contract includes transportation to and from work; when the worker has no fixed place of work; when the worker is on a special mission for his employer; or when the worker’s travel is furthering the business of the employer. While the lower courts focused on the fixed place of employment, the facts supported a legal conclusion that he was furthering his employer’s business when he was injured – to dispose of the material the crew had cleaned out of the job site.


Witnessing workplace shooting caused PTSD – Tennessee

In Evans v. Alliance Healthcare Services, a bus driver was transporting a counselor to a patient’s home in response to a call from the patient’s brother. As they entered the house, the patient shot the counselor. While the counselor survived the attack, the bus driver received mental health care through workers’ compensation but she did not return to work.

The company acknowledged that the shooting initially may have caused the PTSD, but asserted the continuing mental health problems were caused by other events. The trial court disagreed and found she was permanently and totally disabled and that the shooting incident was the cause of her disability. This was upheld by the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel of the Supreme Court.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com