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9th Circuit: Employer Need Not Reasonably Accommodate Unqualified Employee

The plaintiff, a special education teacher in Idaho with a history of depression and bipolar disorder, lacked an Idaho-mandated valid teaching certificate because a "major depressive episode" prevented her from obtaining the credits. The 9th Circuit held that the plaintiff was not a "qualified individual" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) "and that the school district was therefore not required to accommodate her disability." Johnson v. Board of Trustees of the Boundary County School District No. 101, 9th Cir., No. 10-35233, (Dec. 8, 2011)

Workers Compensation
Worker's marijuana use cause of explosion, comp benefits denied - Arkansas

A man working at a marina used an acetylene torch, an improper procedure, to remove the tops of two empty oil barrels. One of the barrels exploded, creating a large fireball that set the man and a coworker "pretty much totally on fire," according to a co-worker's testimony.

The men tested positive for illegal drugs after the accident, and the marina's co-owner said they exhibited "suspicious behavior" that morning. One employee testified that he smoked marijuana three or four times a week after work, but had stopped two weeks before the accident so he could pass a drug test for a potential new employer.

An administrative law judge ruled that the accident was caused by the employee's "attempt to quickly finish a task." However, the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission reversed that ruling. In its majority opinion, the appellate court said Arkansas law presumes that illegal substances caused a workplace accident when evidence of drug use is found.

Criminal trial ordered for owner and manager of Digital Prepress International (DPI) - California

Following three weeks of testimony at a preliminary hearing, it was ruled there was sufficient evidence to hold the defendants to answer on criminal charges of felony involuntary manslaughter and felony violation of the Labor Code filed in connection with the death of a 26-year-old pregnant worker who was crushed by a machine at her job in 2008.

The charges allege that workers at DPI were not trained on safety procedures including turning off the machine's power before reaching into the equipment to set up creasing and cutting jobs. The complaint also charges that the machine that crushed her lacked required safety devices. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "the men could face up to four years in prison and $250,000 in fines, while the company could be fined up to $1.5 million."

Workers' Comp screening system violates coal miners' rights - Kentucky

Kentucky's highest court ruled that the screening system used to qualify miners for Workers' Compensation is violating miners' constitutional rights. Kentucky law requires an inventory of tests to determine whether compensation is warranted. The Supreme Court ruled that those suffering from black lung disease (coal workers' pneumoconiosis) were being denied equal protection under the law because the litany of tests is not justifiable. The system of screening workers poses an equal protection issue because other workers in other fields are not required to undergo the same set of tests for determining their eligibility.

Asbestos exposure victim not limited by exclusive remedy and can sue employer - Missouri

The case concerned a man who was diagnosed with mesothelioma after working for Kansas City Power and Light for 34 years. He claimed that he was frequently exposed to asbestos-containing products while working for KCP & L and brought negligence and premises liability claims against the company as well as suing others.

KCP & L sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, claiming that the man was limited to the remedies provided by Missouri Workers' Compensation law. The court disagreed. It noted that the language of the Workers' Compensation statute only calls for an exclusive remedy in claims arising from a work-related "accident." However, the language of the statute also differentiates between injuries caused by accident and injuries caused by occupational disease. Thus, because the man's mesothelioma was caused by an occupational disease and not an accident, he was not barred from suing his employer for negligence.

Caregiver awarded benefits for stroke related to stressful work conditions - New Jersey

A caregiver for an elderly woman had complained to her employer, Home Instead Senior Care, about the stressful nature of her assignment. She was on duty 24-hours a day, seven days a week with every other weekend off. The client's behavior was unpredictable and one day awoke the caregiver with a loud scream at 2:00 am. The caregiver felt ill and awoke a few hours later and found herself drooling and barely able to speak. She was diagnosed with a stroke.

The issue before the court was whether the stroke was work related and testimony was heard from two expert doctors, neither presenting scientific studies. The employer presented no lay testimony to counter the description by the employee of the high stress working conditions. The court and the Appellate Division found the employee's doctor, who argued that sudden fright can increase blood pressure and lead to intracranial hemorrhage, to be most credible.

Worker injured on break entitled to Worker's Comp benefits - New York

The claimant in Richard Potter Jr. vs. Paolozzi Imports Inc. suffered an injury while driving his personal car to retrieve spaghetti dinners on a break after receiving a supervisor's permission to leave work briefly. Mr. Potter was returning to his worksite when the accident occurred. A finance manager where he worked had purchased the dinners as part of a fundraiser sponsored by a football team that Mr. Potter helped run on a voluntary basis.

On appeal, the 3rd Judicial Department of the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division agreed with the Workers' Comp board to award benefits. The appellate court cited case law finding that short breaks are so closely related to job performance that they do not constitute an interruption of employment, and another finding that benefits are awarded on the theory of an employer's control of the employee during off-premises activity.

Employer must pay Workers' Compensation for concurrent job - New York

A New York appellate court has ruled that Warren County Department of Public Works must pay an injured employee Workers' Compensation based on the average weekly wages from "all concurrent employments." This includes a side job with a janitorial service as well as the departmental job.

A 2007 amendment to the state comp law barred employers from being reimbursed by a Special Disability Fund for excess benefits paid on behalf of a concurrent employer, records show. The public works department argued, in part, that it should not be required to pay benefits for outside employment because it could not be reimbursed.

Widow receives Workers' Comp benefits for opioid treatment-related death - North Carolina

The appellate court found that an employee's 2008 death stemmed directly from a lower-back injury he suffered in 2000 while lifting luggage for US Airways. Court records show methadone was prescribed in 2004 to treat the back pain.

In its appeal, US Airways argued that a non-work-related fatty liver disease that prevented metabolizing increasing dosages of methadone prescribed over several years caused the death. However, a doctor testified that the employee did not "abuse or overuse" the prescription opioid. The appellate court concluded that the toxic build-up of methadone prescribed to manage pain resulting from a compensable injury to a reasonable degree contributed to the death.

30-year smoker entitled to benefits - Pennsylvania

A restaurant manager and chef, who had smoked for about 30 years suffered chest pains when lifting heavy items at work, was hospitalized for several days, and later underwent quintuple bypass surgery. A cardiologist for the employee opined that the lifting incidents probably precipitated his myocardial event. But the Workers' Comp judge concluded that the doctor's testimony was equivocal and legally insufficient to establish a link between his on-the-job lifting and subsequent heart attack.

Reversing the decision, the Commonwealth Court panel found unanimously that the man's doctor provided unequivocal medical testimony causally connecting the work incidents to a heart attack.