Workers’ Comp Docket
Relocation of Washer, Dryer Isn’t Medical Necessity
Buxton v. State of Louisiana, No. 13-1203 (La. Ct. App. 03/05/14)
Ruling: The Louisiana Court of Appeal held that the state was not required to relocate an officer’s washer and dryer because it was not a medical necessity.
What it means: In Louisiana, an employer can be required to modify an injured worker’s home as reasonable and necessary medical treatment.
Summary: A corrections officer for the state fell from a guard tower and suffered multiple work-related injuries. He was rendered totally and permanently disabled. As part of its obligation to provide reasonable and necessary medical treatment, the state paid for modifications in the worker’s home, including providing him with an accessible shower, replacing the carpeting with hard flooring, and remodeling the master bedroom. The contractor moved the washer and dryer into the new master bedroom. Within a few days of signing the contractor’s completion statement, the officer and his wife complained of problems with the location of the washer and dryer. The Louisiana Court of Appeal held that the state was not required to relocate the washer and dryer because it was not a medical necessity.
The officer’s request was based on the noise and heat caused by the washer and dryer, his rashes and upper respiratory tract infections, and the crowding of the room which caused him to fall and break five ribs. The court rejected the arguments, finding that the officer did not establish increased utility bills. Also, the problem did not bear on the medical necessity of treating his work-related injury.
Paid Parking in Garage Doesn’t Make Street Accident Compensable
Hersh v. County of Morris, No. A-59 September Term 2012 (N.J. 04/01/14)
Ruling: The New Jersey Supreme Court held that a clerk was not entitled to benefits for her injuries when she was struck by a car on a public street while walking from a parking garage to her workplace.
What it means: In New Jersey, public places that are not under the control of the employer are not considered part of the employer’s premises for purposes of workers’ compensation benefits even if employees use the route for ingress or egress to the place of employment.
Summary: A senior clerk for Morris County was assigned free parking at a private garage located two blocks from her workplace. The county rented 65 parking spaces in the garage for its employees. The clerk was given a scan card so she could enter the garage and was instructed to park on the third level. The clerk parked her car and began to walk to work. While crossing a public street, she was struck by a motor vehicle and suffered significant injuries. The clerk sought workers’ compensation benefits. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that she was not entitled to benefits.
The county argued that providing paid parking in the garage did not extend its control of the areas between the garage and the work site. The clerk argued that the county exercised control of the garage because it instructed employees to park in a specific location. The court explained that an employer’s workers’ compensation liability did not extend to publicly owned areas not under direct control of the employer.
In this case, the parking garage was not part of the county’s premises, and the county did not control the garage. The county only rented a small portion of the spots in the garage. The court found that the county did not derive any direct business interest from paying for employees to park in the garage.
The clerk’s accident occurred on a public street not under control of the county. In walking a few blocks from the garage to her workplace, the clerk did not assume any special or additional hazards. Also, the county did not control the clerk’s route to work. The court held that a worker injured on a public street not controlled by the employer is not entitled to compensation.
Road Rage Confrontation Is Deviation From Employment
Huey v. RGIS Inventory Specialists, No. 2013-WC-00310-COA (Miss. Ct. App. 04/01/14)
Ruling: The Mississippi Court of Appeals held that a worker’s back injury was not compensable.
What it means: In Mississippi, a worker’s injury after a deviation from his employment to engage in an altercation is not compensable.
Summary: A worker for RGIS Inventory Specialists was driving a van from Mississippi to Tennessee for his employer. As he changed lanes, he nearly collided with a car. The car swerved off the interstate, but the driver regained control of his car. The worker continued driving the van toward his destination. The driver of the car began pursuing the worker. The car passed the van and moved in front of the van. The car then slowed down and forced the worker to stop the van. The van was struck from behind by a truck. The worker injured his back and sought workers’ compensation benefits. The Mississippi Court of Appeals held that he was not entitled to benefits.
The court found that the worker deviated from the course and scope of his employment when he was injured. A trooper who responded to the accident said that the worker and driver of the car admitted that they had been driving aggressively. The court pointed out that the worker’s version of the events changed at least twice. The court found that the evidence supported more than one possible explanation for why the worker stopped his van. However, the trooper’s statements indicated that the worker stopped to engage in a road rage confrontation.
The court found it was within the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s discretion to find that there was no direct causal connection between the worker’s work and his injury.
A dissenting judge said it was “only speculation” that the driver was engaging in a road rage incident with the driver of the car. The dissenting judge pointed out that the worker did not leave the roadway that was the direct route to his destination.
General Contractor Immune From Suit by Subcontractor’s Worker
Patton v. Worthington Associates, Inc., No. J-89-2013 (Pa. 03/26/14)
Ruling: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a general contractor was the statutory employer of a subcontractor’s employee and was immune from suit.
What it means: In Pennsylvania, general contractors bear secondary liability for the payment of workers’ compensation benefits to injured workers employed by their subcontractors.
Summary: Worthington Associates was the general contractor for an addition to a church. Worthington subcontracted with Patton Construction to perform carpentry. A Patton worker fell and hurt his back while working at the construction site. The worker sued Worthington, alleging that it failed to maintain safe conditions at the job site. Worthington argued that it was the worker’s statutory employer and was immune from suit. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed that Worthington was immune from suit.
A conventional relationship between a general contractor that maintains control of a job site and a subcontractor implies a statutory employer relationship for the employees of the subcontractor. Statutory employers are immune from suits relating to work injuries for which they bear secondary liability. The court explained that conventional subcontractors are dependent contractors, not independent ones. Employees of subcontractors are not contractors or employees of the general contractor.
The court found that Patton was a subcontractor and not an independent contractor. The court noted that Patton’s contract was with the general contractor, Worthington, and not the church. The workers’ compensation law did not allow an exception to the statutory employment concept for subcontractors’ employees, and the court declined to create one.
The court found that the worker’s argument that the decision reflected “poor public policy” was best expressed to the legislature.
A concurring judge urged the legislature to eliminate the statutory employer doctrine, so that it “no longer serves as blanket immunity for general contractors” and adversely impacts worker safety by eliminating money damages when a general contractor’s negligence harms a subcontractor’s worker. The judge opined that the mandatory nature of workers’ compensation rendered the statutory employer doctrine obsolete.
Widow Wins Scheduled Loss Benefits for Laborer’s Coma
State ex rel. PolyOne Corp. v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, No. 12AP-313 (Ohio Ct. App. 03/31/14)
Ruling: The Ohio Court of Appeals held that a laborer’s widow was entitled to scheduled loss compensation for the laborer’s loss of use of both arms and legs.
What it means: In Ohio, the workers’ compensation law does not require that an injured worker be consciously aware of his paralysis in order to qualify for scheduled loss benefits.
Summary: A laborer for PolyOne was exposed to vinyl chloride during his employment. He was diagnosed with hepatic angiosarcoma. The laborer filed a workers’ compensation claim. Later, he went into a coma and lost the use of his arms and legs. The laborer sought scheduled compensation for the loss of use of both arms and legs. Four days after he became comatose, he died. The laborer’s widow sought death benefits. PolyOne argued that the widow was not entitled to an award for loss of use of the laborer’s arms and legs. The Ohio Court of Appeals held that the widow was entitled to scheduled loss compensation.
PolyOne argued that the laborer’s failure to survive his comatose condition did not mean that his loss of use of limbs was permanent. The court found that the laborer’s loss of use was not “chemically induced or therapeutic” but was the “natural consequence of his angiosarcoma.” His loss of use was permanent because it did last until his death.
The court was not persuaded by PolyOne’s argument that an award for loss of use benefits was duplicative of a death benefit award. The court explained that death benefits are to compensate dependents for the “loss of support” resulting from a worker’s death. Benefits for partial disability are comparable to damages for work-related injuries.
The court found that because the laborer would have been entitled to apply for a scheduled loss award at the time of his death, his widow could apply for benefits to which he was entitled.
Driver’s Wage-Loss Attributable to Termination After Positive Drug Screen
Apex Transportation, Inc. v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office of the State of Colorado, No. 13CA0016 (Colo. Ct. App. 03/13/14)
Ruling: The Colorado Court of Appeals held that a driver was not entitled to temporary total disability benefits.
What it means: In Colorado, a worker responsible for being separated from employment can be denied TTD benefits. A worker can be entitled to TTD benefits after being terminated if the wage loss was attributable to a worsened condition causally related to the work injury and not to the termination.
Summary: A truck driver for Apex Transportation sustained an injury to his shoulder. He refused medical attention at the time. When the pain did not subside, he obtained a “pain pill” from his brother. He took the pill when the pain became “excruciating.” The next day at work, the pain returned, and the driver reported the injury to Apex. He underwent a drug screen and tested positive for morphine. Because Apex had a “no tolerance” policy for drugs, the driver was terminated. He sought temporary total disability benefits. The Colorado Court of Appeals held that he was not entitled to TTD benefits.
A worker responsible for being separated from employment can be denied TTD benefits. However, a worker can be entitled to TTD benefits after being terminated if the wage loss was attributable to a worsened condition causally related to the work injury and not to the termination. The court agreed with the administrative law judge’s finding that the driver’s volitional act of ingesting the pain pill caused his termination.
The court also concluded that the driver’s condition had not worsened after his termination. The driver described his pain as “excruciating” when he took the pain pill, and it returned to the same level the next day. Medical providers before and after his termination both diagnosed a right scapula sprain/strain.
A physician assistant who examined the driver after he reported the work injury determined that he could return to work. A physician who examined him after his termination ordered him “off work.” The court explained that an increase in work restrictions is not per se evidence of a worsening condition.