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Workers' Compensation
WCAB en banc decision clarifies method to determine liability of the SIBTF - California

In Richard Todd v. Subsequent Injuries Benefits Trust Fund (SIBTF), the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board ruled that prior and subsequent disabilities should be added to determine whether an applicant has a valid claim against the SIBTF. The ruling added clarity to a long-debated issue - whether to use the CVC or simple addition to determine the employee's combined permanent disability. The decision provides a checklist of the elements that must be met to establish SIBTF liability, and the formula to calculate it.

Personal leavetime pay does not constitute workers' comp benefits - Florida

In Medina v. Miami Dade County, a Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) denied a request for temporary disability benefits on the basis that the employee had received full pay during the period from his bank of personal leave time accumulated from 25 years of working for the county. The appellate court reversed the decision, holding that because the sick and vacation leave that was paid constitutes an employer-provided benefit, it cannot be used to avoid paying workers compensation, and the JCC lacked the jurisdiction necessary to reinstate those benefits.

The court noted that while statutes do allow an employer to provide alternative benefits, the benefits must be paid or funded by the employer and not the injured employee.

Insurer and employer can proceed with negligence claim against contractor - Massachusetts

In Pacific Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Champion Steel LLC, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that the employer and workers' compensation insurer of an injured worker may proceed with their negligence lawsuit against contractors who allegedly provided the worker with a faulty lifeline. A Rhode Island Co., Dimeo, secured a contract for construction at Grafton High School in Massachusetts and hired Connecticut subcontractors. The employee sustained serious injuries when he was working on a platform at the construction site and wearing a retractable lifeline, which failed.

The insurance company alleged the contractors were liable for the workers' compensation payments it had made because they had been negligent in supplying, inspecting, maintaining, and using the lifeline. The defendants moved to dismiss the case under Connecticut's two-year statute of limitations for negligence, but the court found that the claim was subject to the Massachusetts three-year statute of limitations for tort actions.

AG sues Uber, Lyft over driver misclassification - Massachusetts

Similar to the court action in California, the complaint filed in Suffolk Superior Court claims Uber and Lyft violate state minimum wage, hour, and sick time laws. The AG is also seeking a court order declaring that ride-hail drivers are employees.

Widow, children denied PTD over award language - Missouri

In Lawrence v. Treasure, a divided Court of Appeals ruled that a worker's widow and children could not receive his permanent disability benefit because they were not named as dependents when he suffered a workplace injury in 2005. In 2015, the Commission awarded permanent total disability benefits (PTD) and he died four years later of causes unrelated to the injury. While a rule that when a worker with a permanent total disability dies from a cause unrelated to his work injury, the benefits will be paid to the worker's dependents for the rest of their lives was abrogated by legislation in 2008, it applied to this case because it was pending between January 2007 and June 2008.

The court, however, said that dependency at the time of the injury is established as a matter of law in the final award and the award did not mention the wife or children.

Supreme Court rules on apportionment and loss of earning power - Missouri

In Picard v. P&C Group 1 Inc., an employee had surgery on her wrists for bilateral carpal tunnel in 2012, was assigned a 10% permanent partial impairment rating for each hand, and returned to work with lifting restrictions. When she was working in a new position in 2015, she developed back pain and was diagnosed with a herniated disk. Following an operation, she was assigned a 13% impairment rating and returned to work with permanent restrictions.

She filed for workers' compensation and the two cases were consolidated by the Workers' Compensation Court. The case made its way to the Supreme Court with questions regarding apportionment, penalties for delayed compensation, combining compensation for lost earnings, and successive whole-body injury awards.

The Supreme Court ruled that there was a reasonable controversy regarding the compensability of the 2015 injury (apportionment/successive compensable injuries to the body as a whole) and, therefore, the lower court did not err in vacating the award of penalties for delayed payments. It also noted that the state doesn't have an apportionment statute for claims occurring after Dec. 1, 1997. Therefore, the lower court did not err in determining that the second injury should not be apportioned with the first.

However, it did disagree with the court's decision that she was entitled to compensation for lost earning power resulting from both injuries. By law, a worker cannot recover independent awards for successive whole-body injuries when the subsequent injury is to a separate body part but does not result in a further loss of earning power. At the time of the trial, she was working in the same position that she was at the time of the 2015 injury.

Family to receive death benefits for work-related suicide - New York

Generally, death benefits are not provided in suicide cases in workers' comp. However, state case law makes some exceptions "where the suicide results from insanity, brain derangement, or a pattern of mental deterioration caused by work-related injury." In this case, an employee of the Saratoga County Water District suffered a head injury that led to a degradation of his mental status," according to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. It upheld two earlier rulings that the suicide qualified for survivor benefits.

Clarification of definition of occupational disease - New York

In Matter of Renko v. New York State Police, a worker claimed that he contracted prostate cancer while maintaining and cleaning police cars in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack, which were contaminated with toxins from the cleanup of operations. An appellate court reversed the Board's denial of benefits, which was based on the fact that the toxins were not a normal attribute of his work.

The court argued, however, that his job required him to clean the vehicles by removing the toxins. Therefore, his exposure to the toxins derived from his work, not from an environmental condition of the workplace. Under the state's definition of occupational disease - one "resulting from the nature of employment and contracted therein" - it is possible to maintain a claim.

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Undisclosed church activities not material misrepresentation - New York

In Matter of Roberts v. Eastman Kodak Co., a worker was injured in 1989 and was classified as having a permanent partial disability and continuously received benefits. In 2017 the company provided video evidence of the worker providing pastoral services, noting this conflicted with her statement that she was not involved in volunteer work.

She argued that her activities of providing sermons, limited counseling, assisting with Bible study, performing baptisms, and participating in prayers were "spiritual advancement" as opposed to a job or volunteer work. The court agreed, finding her activities religious worship and that she did not misrepresent the facts to obtain workers' compensation.

Injury aggravates preexisting depression and is compensable - Pennsylvania

In Pocono Medical Center v. Workers Compensation Appeal Board, a phlebotomist was attacked by a patient and suffered a pinched nerve to her spinal cord. After six years, the medical center sought to terminate benefits. She argued that the injury had exacerbated her preexisting condition of major depressive disorder and presented medical evidence to support her claim. The court accepted that the pre-existing depression became debilitating as a result of the injury.

Meatpackers sue DOL for imminent dangers of COVID-19 - Pennsylvania

Three Maid-Rite Specialty Foods workers allege "imminent dangers posed by a workplace that has failed to take the most basic precautions to protect against the spread of COVID-19," in a case filed in the United States District Court Middle District of Pennsylvania, in Harrisburg.

Worker blinded by co-worker's assault denied benefits - Virginia

In King v. DTH Contract Services Inc, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Workers' Compensation Commission's finding that neither the nature of the worker's job nor the environment in which he worked "increased the probability of assault." The employee worked as an overnight rest area attendant and a former employee stabbed him in the eyes with a screwdriver when he was on his way back to the office after a safety check. The assailant committed suicide and the motive was never determined.

An appellate court had reversed the decision and remanded it back to the Commission to determine if he was at an increased risk of the assault. Upon review, the Commission determined the worker did not provide a causal link that a condition of his employment motivated the attack or exposed him to a "particular danger." The court affirmed the denial of benefits.