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Workers' Compensation
Exclusive remedy nixes claims for injuries in employer-owner house fire - California

In Francisco Gonzalez vs JOSE SOARES, as Trustee, etc., et al, a dairy farmer alleged that negligent maintenance of the mobile home where he lived, which was owned by his employer, resulted in a fire causing him to suffer severe burns. He filed a workers' compensation claim and received benefits, but also pursued a civil liability case. Both a trial judge and the Court of Appeals found that the dairy owners were immune to civil liability because of the exclusive remedy provisions of the workers' compensation law.

Judge denies Publix's attempt to dismiss lawsuit over worker's Covid-19 death - Florida

On February 5, a Miami-Dade Circuit Judge denied Publix Super Markets Inc.'s request to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit filed after a Miami Beach deli employee died of Covid-19 in April. A month before his death, he allegedly worked alongside a co-worker showing virus symptoms and was forbidden from wearing a mask. Publix argued that the death was a workers' compensation matter, but the judge disagreed.

State Supreme Court to determine if exclusive remedy bars lawsuit for violations of the Biometric Information Privacy Act - Illinois

The Illinois Supreme Court granted leave for Symphony Bronzeville Park to appeal an appellate court decision holding that the exclusive remedy of workers' compensation did not prohibit a worker from pursuing a lawsuit for alleged violations of the Biometric Information Privacy Act.

Employee does not have to be reimbursed for medical marijuana costs - Massachusetts

In Mark T. Delano v. Partners Healthcare System Inc., an appellate court ruled a self-insured employer does not have to reimburse medical marijuana costs to an injured worker. The worker sought compensation for medical marijuana expenses to treat pain stemming from a work-related injury; however, it was denied by the employer. An administrative judge, the reviewing board of the state Department of Industrial Accidents, and the Appeals Court upheld the denial.

In its ruling, the appeals court cited a similar 2020 case that concluded a "workers' compensation insurer cannot be required to pay for medical marijuana expenses ... based on the medical marijuana act itself."

Cost of insurance, not retaliation, led to firing of correctional officers - Massachusetts

In Mattar v. Cabral, an Appeals Court found that a group of correctional officers who were on leave were fired for a "good faith administrative determination of lack of funds," not because they were on disability leave. The administration of Suffolk County's sheriff's department was moved to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including health insurance. After the transfer, the department was charged the cost of insuring the twelve workers who were on leave for more than a year, estimated at $140,000.

The workers had received workers' compensation for at least one year and the department terminated them to avoid future costs. At the time, one employee had returned to work, nine others were approved for accidental disability retirement, and two had applications pending.

Failure to notify employer of continued treatment leads to denial of claims - Missouri

In Kent v. NHC Healthcare, a health care worker for a medical facility received workers' compensation after a back injury while lifting a patient. Eventually, the doctor placed the worker at maximum medical improvement and assigned him a permanent partial disability of no more than 1 percent. He was terminated a short time later for a workplace infraction.

Following his termination, he continued to seek treatment and underwent surgery, but never notified his former employer. Later, he underwent an independent medical examination, and the IME reported that the workplace accident was a "substantial and prevailing factor" in the worker's pain. An ALJ concluded that all the treatment the worker sought flowed from the work accident and found the employer liable for $140,030 in past medical expenses.

However, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission modified the ALJ's ruling, decreasing the award for past medical expenses to $44,123, noting that the worker didn't notify the center of the surgery. The Court of Appeals agreed, noting under Missouri law, a worker has the burden to show that the employer had notice of the need for treatment and refused or failed to provide the treatment.

Amazon sues Attorney General who proceeds with lawsuit for Covid-19 safety violations - New York

In an attempt to stop charges against the company over safety concerns at two of its warehouses in New York City, Amazon filed a case with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The company asks the court to find that the Attorney General does not have authority to regulate workplace safety during the Covid-19 pandemic or to investigate allegations of retaliation against employees who protest their working conditions. Federal labor and safety laws preempt those of the state. Further, it argues that its safety measures far exceed that required by law.

A few days later, Attorney General Letitia James filed the lawsuit alleging that Amazon failed to maintain a safe work environment by reasonably protecting workers from the spread of Covid-19 and unlawfully fired and disciplined employees that objected to the unsafe work conditions. The lawsuit, filed in the Supreme Court of New York County, argues that Amazon's actions violate New York labor, whistleblower protection, and anti-retaliation laws.

Home Health Aid receives benefits for injury incurred while running an errand - New York

In Sharipova v. BNV Home Care Agency Inc., a live-in home health attendant provided care to a client 24-hours, seven days a week. She regularly took her wheelchair-bound client for a walk and on the day of the injury she stopped at her personal physician's office. Both she and her client were seriously injured when she slipped and fell on the office's wheelchair ramp.

Her employer strongly disputed her claim that she stopped in to retrieve paperwork required by the employer and to confirm whether the physician accepted her client's medical insurance so that she could schedule an appointment and argued she stopped for personal reasons. A WCJ found the claim compensable, but the Workers' Compensation Board reversed the award.

Upon appeal, the Appellate Court found attendant's "act of briefly stopping while on a routine walk with her client, regardless of where that stop took place, simply could not be said to be purely personal or wholly unrelated to her work." She could not leave her premises without her client and she was responsible for scheduling her client's medical appointments.

Employer assessed penalty for failure to prove treatment 26 years later unrelated to compensable injury - Pennsylvania

In DTE Energy Co. Inc. v. WCAB (Weatherby), a worker suffered a leg/back injury and collected total and partial disability benefits "sporadically" for six years. He then went to work for another company and his benefits were suspended. Twenty years later he entered into a settlement that made the company responsible for certain medical bills incurred to treat the injuries it had accepted as compensable. However, it did not specify whether it would cover back surgery, which he had undergone a year earlier. A WCJ found that the surgery was not compensable, relying on a physician's opinion that maximum medical improvement (MMI) was reached in 2009 and surgery was not needed then, and denied a petition for penalties for non-payment.

Two years later, he filed another penalty petition for non-payment of his medical expenses.The company argued non-work-related incidents and medical conditions, including neck surgery and an auto accident, contributed to the worker's pain, so it was not responsible for paying benefits. Based on a report that the chronic back pain was caused by a myelogram performed in 1988 to assess his work injuries, a WCJ granted the penalty (20%) and the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board affirmed.

Upon appeal, the Commonwealth Court agreed. The court explained that a finding of MMI is not the same as a finding of a full recovery; it is just a finding that the worker's condition is stable. While it may have precluded benefits for surgical treatment, there was medical evidence that palliative treatment was needed.

Actual risk rule nixes plumber's benefits - Virginia

In Reynolds v. Falletta Enterprises, a plumber injured his knee when he stepped from the rear door of his service van. Applying the state's "actual risk" rule, an appellate court supported the Commission's denial, determining that the injury occurred in the course of the employment but did not arise from the employment. Under state law, simple acts of walking, bending, turning, or even climbing stairs, without proof of any other contributing environmental factors, are not risks of employment.

While the plumber was acknowledged as a credible witness, there was nothing to indicate he stepped from an unusual height, stepped on uneven pavement, or encountered any environmental condition or complicating factor relating to work that caused the injury.