Workers' Compensation

Larson’s Spotlight on Recent Cases: Illegal Immigration Status Doesn’t Bar Benefits

Larson's Spotlight on Illegal Aliens, Rehabilitation Services, Lump Sum, and Heart Attack. Larson's surveys the latest case developments that you need to know about. Thomas A. Robinson, the staff writer for Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, has compiled the list below.

KS: Inability to Accept Re-employment Because of Illegal Immigration Status Is No Bar to Work Disability Benefits

The Supreme Court of Kansas recently affirmed an award of work disability benefits to an undocumented worker who was ineligible for gainful employment under the Federal immigration laws.  The employer contended that under Federal law, it was illegal for McDonald's (or any other employer) to reemploy the worker and that any wage loss she suffered was unrelated to the work injury but rather to her legal inability to return to work.  McDonald's further contended that the award of work disability contravened public policy.  The high court indicated resolution of the issue was a matter of statutory construction, that the relevant statute, K.S.A. 44-510e, had only two exceptions to basing an award on work disability: (1) where the post-injury earnings were equal to or more than 90 percent of pre-injury wages; and (2) where the functional impairment exceeded the work disability.  K.S.A. 44-510e contained no exception based on immigration status.  The worker was eligible for all benefits under the Act, including work disability.

See Fernandez v. McDonald's, 2013 Kan. LEXIS 14 (Jan. 25, 2013).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 66.03.

OH: Lack of Education and Work Experience Means Injured Coal Miner Qualifies for Permanent Disability Benefits

Because an employee had spent his entire working life in the coal mines and neither his education nor his work experience provided him with any transferable skills, it was not an abuse of discretion for the Industrial Commission of Ohio to award the employee permanent total disability benefits, held a state appellate court recently.  Moreover, it was not an abuse of discretion for the Commission to find that there was no reason to believe that the employee would benefit from rehabilitation services; the record did not prove that he could have improved his intellectual functioning, with or without additional schooling or training.  The court observed that the employee, who was more than 60 years old, had hoped to go back to mining, but he was rejected for further employment because he could not pass the physical.

See State ex rel. Consolidated Coal Co. v. Tippins, 2013 Ohio 179, 2013 Ohio App. LEXIS 140 (Jan. 24, 2013).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 83.04.

IA: Court Affirmed Partial Lump Summing In Spite of Worker's Lack of Financial Sophistication

An Iowa appellate court recently affirmed a district court's decision that in turn had affirmed an agency decision allowing a partial lump summing of benefits to an injured worker.  The employer and carrier argued, in relevant part, that substantial evidence did not support the agency's decision in light of (1) the worker's lack of investment experience, (2) the tax consequences of the commutation and potential loss of benefits to a garnishment proceeding, and (3) the worker's lifelong best interests instead of only his current financial situation.  The court said that the agency indeed had taken note of the worker's lack of financial sophistication, but that the agency had also noted the worker had acknowledged this deficit and had sought out the assistance of an experienced independent financial adviser. The agency also found that the income received from the invested funds would be subject to income tax whereas weekly workers' compensation benefits were not and that the lump sum payment would be subject to division should the worker's marriage be dissolved.  The appellate court concluded that while there certainly was evidence to support the conclusion that commutation was not in the worker's best interests, the court's role was not to determine whether the evidence supported a different finding, but rather to determine whether substantial evidence supported the findings actually made.  In the court's view substantial evidence did support the agency's decision.

See Pilgrim's Pride Corp. v. Eakins, 2013 Iowa App. LEXIS 104 (Jan. 24, 2013).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 132.07.

ID: Prison Guard Fails to Establish Causal Link Between Work and Heart Attack

The Supreme Court of Idaho, in a divided opinion, recently affirmed a denial of workers' compensation benefits to a prison guard who sustained a heart attack shortly after reporting for work one day, agreeing with Industrial Commission that he had failed to prove a causal connection between the employment and the attack. The guard contended that that the Commission misapplied the law by requiring him to prove that his industrial accident was the sole cause of his heart attack and that his preexisting conditions were not a cause.  The high court indicated the Commission had done no such thing. Rather, the Commission had found that the guard failed to establish to a reasonable medical probability that his heart attack was triggered by his activities at work on the day in question.  The guard's cardiologist had opined that the heart attack was caused when preexisting atherosclerotic plaque in the guard's artery ruptured, which was the inciting event of a coronary thrombosis. The cardiologist said that work activities may have contributed 50% to the heart attack.  The court said the Commission interpreted the cardiologist's testimony as being able to identify when the blockage of the artery occurred because there was an onset of symptoms, but being unable to identify whether the plaque rupture that caused the blockage occurred as a result of stressors prior to the guard's arriving at work or after he had arrived at work.  As the fact finder, the Commission was free to give whatever weight it thought appropriate to the medical evidence.

See Henry v. Department of Corrections, 2013 Ida. LEXIS 31 (Jan. 23, 2013).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 128.05.

Source: Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, the nation's leading authority on workers' compensation law.

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