6 Recent Workers’ Comp Legal Rulings You Should Know About

Murder in the workplace, PTSD, softball injuries and other workers' comp litigation disputes are being brought before judges across the country.
By: | November 15, 2018 • 10 min read

Comp Doesn’t Cover Worker’s Murder by Coworker

Williams v. Park Family Health Care PC, 32 MIWCLR 70 (Mich. C.A.C. 2018)

Ruling: The Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission held that sufficient evidence supported the magistrate’s finding that the worker’s death, when she was killed by a coworker she was previously dating, was not work-related.

What it means: In Michigan, an employee’s death caused by the intentional act of a coworker motivated by private reasons is not work-related.

Summary: The commission held that sufficient evidence supported the magistrate’s finding that the worker’s death, when she was killed by a coworker she was previously dating, was not work-related.

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Prior to the murder, the worker broke up with the coworker and began dating another man. The coworker let himself into the employer’s premises, killed the worker, set the building on fire, and then killed himself.

The commission found that although the worker’s death occurred in the course of employment, as she was at work on the employer’s premises at the time of her death, her death did not arise out of her employment.

The friction between the worker and the coworker developed from the failure of their personal, off-duty relationship when she found out that the coworker was married and not seeking a divorce, which was followed by several incidents involving the worker’s new boyfriend.

The fact that the coworker used his keys to the employer’s premises on the day of the shooting was merely incidental to the fact pattern.

His possession of the keys did not impute any exacerbation of the worker’s personal situation to the employer nor did it mean that the employer contributed to facilitating her death.

Further, nothing in the record indicated that the feud between the worker and the coworker was in any way connected with the employment.

Worker Proves Compensable Claim for PTSD After Restaurant Shooting

Dickey v. Delphi Automotive Systems LLC, 32 MIWCLR 57 (Mich. C.A.C. 2018)

Ruling: The Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission held that the requisite evidence supported the magistrate’s decision awarding benefits to the worker for post-traumatic stress disorder from a work-related incident.

What it means: In Michigan, an employee’s experience of taking cover in a restaurant during a business meeting while several people near him are killed by gunmen constitutes a compensable claim for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Summary: The Commission held that the requisite evidence supported the magistrate’s decision awarding benefits to the worker for post-traumatic stress disorder from a work-related incident.

Evidence indicated that the worker was on a business trip and while at a restaurant in Mexico with clients and workers, witnessed gunmen kill several people in the restaurant. The worker and his party took cover beneath their table and then fled the restaurant.

After returning to Detroit, he became symptomatic and was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD. The commission noted that there was an actual employment event — a business dinner in which the worker witnessed the murders at the restaurant.

The commission also said that an objective analysis of a similar generic situation leads to a conclusion that a normal and healthy individual would view having people being murdered right in front of him as horrific, stressful, and traumatizing.

Further, it was logical to conclude that one who witnesses a horrific, stressful, and traumatizing event such as a multiple murder could possibly be afflicted with PTSD.

Also, the commission rejected the employer’s argument that the worker’s own actions were the cause for his continuing disability.

Although the employer’s examining doctor found the worker’s ongoing symptoms were from side effects of medication and the worker should be weaned off such medications, the magistrate reasonably relied on the contrary opinion of the treating doctors, who were actually increasing the worker’s medications.

Worker Scores Benefits for Injury Sustained in Softball Tournament

New York City Department of Corrections, 118 NYWCLR 125 (N.Y. W.C.B., Panel 2018)

Ruling: The New York Workers’ Compensation Board held that a worker’s knee injury, sustained while participating in an off-duty softball tournament, arose out of and in the course of his employment.

What it means: In New York, a worker’s injuries sustained in an off-duty softball tournament may be compensable where the employer actively encourages its employees to participate.

Summary: A worker injured his knee while participating in an off-duty softball tournament. He testified that his supervisor sent him a personal invitation to the event suggesting that he participate.

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Also, his supervisor’s secretary emailed him and encouraged him to participate in the event. He was not paid to participate in the event.

The employer paid for the permits while the participants paid a $45 fee. The workers’ compensation law judge found the employer sponsored the softball event, and therefore, the injury was compensable.

In affirming, the board noted that the worker distinguished his case from the facts of the cases relied on by the employer.

The employer argued that the instant case was similar to the facts of a prior decision, where the worker was participating in an athletic tournament, was required to pay a fee, and the commissioner of the Department of Corrections attended the games.

However, in that case, the evidence did not support a finding that the employer actively encouraged employees to participate.

In contrast, the evidence in the instant case demonstrated that the employer made sure that its employees were well-aware of the tournament and the worker’s supervisor’s secretary personally emailed him and encouraged him to participate.

Delay in Requesting Benefit Review Undermines Worker’s PTSD Claim

Lyles v. Titlemax of Tennessee, No. W2017-00873-SC-WCM-WC (Tenn. 09/14/18)

Ruling: The Tennessee Supreme Court held that a worker’s claim was barred when she failed to file a request for a benefit conference review within one year of the date of her treatment with the employer-provided counselor.

What it means: In Tennessee, the right to compensation is barred unless the required notice is given to the employer and a benefit review conference is requested within one year of the accident.

Summary: A worker for Titlemax of Tennessee was working when an armed robbery occurred where an individual entered the store, jumped over the desk, and brandished a gun while demanding money.

For several weeks after the incident, the worker experienced crying spells, nightmares, nervous, distress, and unable to focus.

Titlemax sent her to a counselor, who diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the robbery.

The worker eventually stopped seeing the counselor. More than one year later, she requested a benefit review conference. She subsequently filed a workers’ compensation claim.

The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations.

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The court explained that the right to compensation is barred unless the required notice is given to the employer and a benefit review conference is requested within one year of the accident.

Here, the benefit review conference was requested more than one year after the armed robbery.

The worker asserted that although she knew she suffered an injury due to the armed robbery, she did not have knowledge that the injury she sustained was permanent at the time.

However, the court pointed out that she continuously experienced PTSD symptoms, and she did not initially believe that her symptoms resolved.

She said that she stopped treatment with the counselor provided by Titlemax because she “hoped she would be okay” even though she was still experiencing symptoms.

County Can’t Rebut Worker’s Showing of Total Disability

Harris v. Stone County Board of Supervisors, et al., No. 2017-WC-01396-COA (Miss. Ct. App. 09/25/18)

Ruling: The Mississippi Court of Appeals held that a worker was entitled to permanent total disability benefits.

What it means: In Mississippi, a worker can establish a prima facie case for total disability if, after reaching maximum medical improvement, he reports back to work for the employer and the employer refuses to reinstate or rehire him.

Once a worker makes a prima facie showing of total disability, the burden shifts to the employer to rebut or refute the worker’s evidence.

Summary: A worker for Stone County suffered a work-related injury to his left knee. He had worked for the county for 11 years cutting grass, keeping up the county buildings, and performing custodial duties.

After reaching maximum medical improvement, he asked the county about the possibility of employment that was less physically demanding. The county responded that there were no positions available within the worker’s restrictions.

The county’s vocational rehabilitation counselor said that he had the ability to be employed in a limited number of occupations in his geographic area.

The counselor identified employment opportunities, and the worker applied for the positions but he was unable to secure employment. The Mississippi Court of Appeals held that the worker was entitled to permanent total disability benefits.

The court rejected the county’s assertion that the worker was only entitled to permanent partial disability benefits.

The court found that the worker established a prima facie case of total disability because after he reached MMI and reached out to the county about employment that was less physically demanding, the county responded that there were no positions available within his physical limitations.

The court found that the county failed to rebut or refute the worker’s evidence. The worker was 50 years old with no vocational training past high school, and his entire employment history was limited to custodial and maintenance work.

He applied for all of the positions the counselor found but was not hired. The court pointed out that the range of pay for these positions, which the worker did not qualify for by education or training, was less than his preinjury earnings.

Also, the medical testimony showed that the worker sustained a permanent impairment and would not be able to be employed in a long-term job that required any significant physical demands.

Employer’s Decision to Fill Injured Worker’s Position Isn’t Discriminatory

In re BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Los Angeles, Inc., No. CAAP-14-0001135 (Hawaii Ct. App. 09/28/18, unpublished)

Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals held that an employer did not discriminate against an injured worker when it refused to return her to her preinjury position.

What it means: In Hawaii, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a worker solely because she suffered a work injury.

Summary: A worker for BCI Coca-Cola Bottling suffered a work-related injury and was placed on disability leave.

After she was on leave for 10 months, BCI hired a permanent replacement for her preinjury position.

The worker later sought to return to work in her preinjury position, but BCI refused to reinstate her to her former position because it had been filled.

The worker alleged that BCI subjected her to discrimination. The Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals held that BCI did not discriminate against the worker solely because she had a work injury.

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The court explained that the statute bars discrimination against a worker solely because she suffered a work injury.

BCI asserted that it refused to return her to her preinjury because the position was filled. BCI pointed out that the worker’s prolonged absence from work created a business hardship that required it to fill the position before she was able to return to work.

For nearly one year, two supervisors covered for the worker’s absence by learning her position and arriving to work two hours earlier than normal to perform her job in addition to their own duties.

The worker and her doctor could not determine when or if she would be able to return to work. Therefore, BCI replaced the worker with a permanent employee.

About 15 months after the injury, BCI learned that the worker was released to work. By that time, her preinjury position had been filled.

The court explained that the language of the statute did not suggest that employers were required to leave a vacated position open or hire temporary employees to replace an injured worker who may be unable to return to their previous employment for lengthy periods of time. &

Christina Lumbreras is a Legal Editor for Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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