MISSOURI WORKERS’ COMPENSATION

CASE LAW UPDATE

 

JULY 2012-SEPTEMBER 2012

 

 

Each Pre-existing Injury Alone Has to Meet Threshold for Fund to be Liable for that Injury

 

Joseph Salviccio v. Treasurer of the State of Missouri, as Custodian of the Second Injury Fund,Case No. ED97862

 

FACTS: The claimant sustained an injury to his left knee and settled against the employer for 20% of the left knee. He then pursued benefits against the Second Injury Fund. The claimant had pre-existing disabilities of 59% of the left finger, 4% of the body referable to a hernia, 3.5% of the body referable to a hernia and 20% of the body referable to diabetes. The ALJ found no Fund liability because none of the claimant's pre-existing injuries arose to the level necessary, which was 15% of a major extremity, or 50 weeks for body as a whole injuries. The Commission found that because the claimant had more than a single pre-existing PPD, it was necessary to convert all of his pre-existing disabilities to weeks of compensation and combine them to see if they met or exceeded the 50 weeks of compensation. The Commission looked to all of the claimant's pre-existing disabilities, which amounted to 123 weeks. Therefore, the Fund was responsible for 12.3 weeks of PPD enhancement.

 

HOLDING: The Court concluded that the Statute makes no allowance for combining body as a whole injuries together, or combining a body as a whole injury with a major extremity injury. The Court did note that it is acceptable to combine pre-existing PPD of a major extremity, for instance, PPD of the right wrist and the right shoulder, which results in 15% of the right arm, which is a major extremity. The Court found that only the claimant's diabetes, which was considered to be 20% PPD, satisfied the 50 weeks of compensation threshold and could be included in calculating Fund liability. Therefore, the Court concluded that the Fund was not liable for PPD enhancement due to the claimant's two hernias and the injury to his little finger, and was only responsible for enhancement with respect to the claimant's diabetes. Please note that this matter was directly transferred to the Supreme Court.

 

Dyson v. Treasurer of the State of Missouri as Custodian of the Second Injury Fund, Case No. ED97865

 

FACTS: On June 23, 2008, the claimant sustained an injury to his right shoulder, which required surgery. He settled his claim against the employer for 25% PPD of the right shoulder. He also had a prior neck injury, which he settled against the employer for 15% PPD and also had a prior right ankle injury. The claimant went to a hearing against the Fund. The ALJ found that the Fund was responsible for 15% PPD of the body for the pre-existing neck injury and that the Fund was not responsible for the 7.5% PPD of the right ankle. The claimant filed an Application for Review, and the Commission found that the Fund was responsible for the 7.5% PPD of the ankle. The Fund appealed, noting that the 7.5% PPD of the ankle did not meet the threshold, which was 15% of a major extremity.


HOLDING: The Court, basically quoting the opinion ofthe Salviccio Court, noted that combining or stacking different pre-existing injuries is not permissible. Only combining pre-existing PPD of a major extremity, for instance, the right wrist and right shoulder to result in 15% PPD of the right arm, is permissible. Therefore, the claimant's 7.5% PPD to his ankle does not meet the minimum 15% PPD threshold for major extremities, and does not trigger Fund liability.

 

The Court also addressed the Fund's argument that the claimant's ankle injury was not a hindrance or obstacle to his employment. The Court found that Dr. Volarich noted that the injury was a hindrance to his employment, due to ongoing pain, particularly with prolonged weight bearing and deep squatting activities. The Court further noted this was supported by the claimant's testimony that he had pain in his ankle, had to wear boots, even in the summer, to support his ankle, and had discomfort at the end of the day. Therefore, the Court found that there was sufficient competent and substantial evidence in the record that the claimant's injury was a hindrance or obstacle to his employment. However, because it did not meet the threshold, the Fund was not liable for the 7.5% PPD of the ankle.

 

15% Penalty Against Employer Does Not Apply to Claimant's Award Against Fund

 

Terry Hornbeck v. Spectra Painting, Inc, and the Treasurer of the State of Missouri as Custodian of the Second Injury Fund,Case No. SC92116

 

FACTS: The claimant was a painter and fell from a ladder onto a concrete surface. The ladder that he fell from was on a makeshift scaffolding platform. The claimant alleged that his work injury resulted from the employer's violation of the Scaffolding Act, and sought application of the 15% statutory violation penalty under the Statute. The ALJ determined that the employer had not violated the Scaffolding Act and the 15% penalty was inapplicable. The Commission found that the employer had violated the Scaffolding Act, and the 15% penalty applied to the Award against the employer and the Fund.

 

HOLDING: The Court found that 15% statutory violation penalty against the employer does not apply to the claimant's Award from the Fund. The Court noted that because the Award issued to the claimant from the Fund is intended to reflect his pre-existing condition, not the injury caused by his work with the employer, it would be inappropriate to order the employer to pay a penalty on that Award.

 

Statutes in Effect on Claimant's Date of Injury Govern

 

Gary Gervich, deceased, and Deborah Gervich, v. Condaire, Inc. and Treasurer of Missouri as Custodian of the Second Injury Fund,Case No. SC91727

 

FACTS: The claimant sustained a work-related injury on April 6, 2006 while working for the employer and alleged that he was permanently and totally disabled. While the claimant's claim was pending, the legislature in 2008 amended the Workers' Compensation Statute pertaining to the right of an injured worker's dependent to collect continuing compensation when the injured worker dies of causes unrelated to the work injury. On April 5, 2009, the claimant died from causes unrelated to his work injury. The Commission found that the claimant's right to total disability benefits terminated at the time of his death because his wife's right to such benefits had not "vested" prior to the 2008 statutory amendments that eliminated dependents from the definition of an employee.

 HOLDING:  The Court found that the Statutes in effect at the time of the claimant's injury, which was April 6, 2006, governed. Those Statutes provided that the dependents of an injured worker who was receiving permanent total disability benefits would continue to receive those benefits when the claimant died of causes unrelated to the work injury. Furthermore, the Statute stated that a claimant's dependents are determined at the time of the injury and include the spouse of an injured worker. Therefore, the Commission was not authorized to deny such benefits to the claimant's widow. The Court reversed and remanded the Commission's decision noting that the claimant's widow's status as a dependent was set on the date of her husband's injury, and she fit within the statutory definition of an employee in effect on the date of injury. Therefore, she is entitled to receive continuing permanent total disability benefits as his dependent.

 

Willie White v. University of Missouri - Kansas City and Treasurer of the State of Missouri - Custodian of the Second Injury Fund,Case No. WD74081

 

FACTS: The claimant was injured on June 11, 2007 and filed a claim for PPD against his employer and the Fund on June 17, 2008. On September 30, 2009, the claimant amended his claim alleging permanent and total disability. An ALJ determined the claimant was permanently and totally disabled as a result of his work injury in combination with his pre-existing disability. The ALJ denied the claim for benefits for his wife, asserted underSchoemehl v. Treasurer, in which the Court found that dependents continue to receive benefits when the claimant dies of causes unrelated to the work injury. The ALJ noted that the claimant's claim was not amended to a permanent disability claim until after Schoemehl was abrogated by the 2008 amendments. The Commission concluded the Fund was responsible for the claimant's PTD benefits, and the claimant's wife qualified for application of theSchoemehl case. The Fund appealed arguing that because the injured employee was not deceased, dependent benefits cannot "vest" until the injured employee is deceased.

 


HOLDING: The Court noted that inGervich v. Condaire the Court found that the Statutes in effect at the time of the injury govern whether his/her dependent was entitled to receive disability benefits, not the Statutes on the date of death. The Court found that even though the claimant's wife's dependency status was determined prior to the date of the statutory amendments in 2008, her right to receive these benefits remains contingent and cannot be adjudicated. The Court determined that because the claimant was still alive and his wife cannot be substituted as an employee for him at this stage, she is not entitled to receive benefits underSchoemehl at this time.

 

 

COMMISSION DECISIONS

 

New Law

 

Pre-existing Disability Irrelevant if Last Injury Alone Renders Claimant PTD

 

In Mackey v. Superior Cartage, Inc. and Treasurer of Missouri as Custodian of Second Injury Fund, Injury No.: 09-065400,the claimant sustained an injury to his lower back, which required surgery, and he settled his claim with the employer for 23.5% PPD of the body. The claimant also had a prior shoulder injury which he settled for 56% PPD of the left shoulder. He then went against the Fund for permanent total disability benefits. The ALJ found that the Fund was responsible for benefits. The Commission reversed the ALJ's decision, stating that the ALJ failed to look to the last injury alone before considering the claimant's pre-existing disabling conditions. The evidence revealed that the claimant had considerable disabilities that resulted from his primary August 2009 low back injury, including daily pain and medication, the inability to sleep, use of a cane and the inability to walk for more than 5 - 10 minutes. The Commission noted that when determining whether the Fund has any liability, it must first determine the degree of disability from the last injury considered alone. Pre-existing disabilities are irrelevant until this determination is made. If the last injury, in and of itself, rendered the claimant permanently and totally disabled, then the Fund has no liability, and the employer is responsible for all compensation. The Commission found that the effects of the primary injury considered alone, in isolation, rendered the claimant permanently and totally disabled, and therefore, the Fund had no liability. 

 

Pre-existing Condition of Diabetes was Hindrance or Obstacle Even Though It Was Controlled

 

In Bollinger v. The Education Institute and Treasurer of Missouri as Custodian of Second Injury Fund, Injury No.: 08-120375,the claimant sustained a compensable right knee injury on September 16, 2008. He settled his claim against the employer and proceeded to a hearing against the Fund. The ALJ found that the claimant's pre-existing diabetes was not a hindrance or obstacle to employment at the time of the primary injury, because at the time of his primary injury his diabetes was not out of control, even though at the time of the hearing it was out of control. The Commission disagreed because they were convinced that a cautious employer could reasonably perceive the claimant's diabetes as having the potential to combine with a work-related injury so as to produce a greater degree of disability then would occur in the absence of such condition. The Commission further noted that the claimant's diabetes negatively impacted his treatment leading to delays while doctors tried to get his diabetes under control. Therefore, the claimant's diabetes in fact hampered his ability to recover from the work injury, and thus exposed a perspective employer to more liability than otherwise would have resulted from the work injury. Therefore, the Commission concluded that the claimant's diabetes is precisely the sort of pre-existing condition that the legislature had in mind when the Fund was created. 

 

Fall Not Compensable Because Claimant Failed to Prove In Course and Scope of Employment

 

In Burt v. Reckitt Benckiser, Injury No.: 10-009704, the claimant did not remember any of the circumstances surrounding his fall. There were no witnesses to the fall and the only firsthand account of the incident was from a woman who saw the claimant sliding down the stairs just after the fall had occurred. The last thing the claimant remembered prior to his fall was looking at a clock. He did not recall going up the stairs and did not recall falling down the stairs. The ALJ noted that it was pure speculation as to where the claimant was located on the stairs when he first began to fall, and there was no evidence that he slipped or that he had fallen because of the lack of a guard. Therefore, the ALJ found the claimant failed to carry his burden of proof that he experienced an injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment, since he experienced an idiopathic cause which resulted in his injury.

 

The Commission agreed with the ALJ's conclusion but disagreed with the analysis. The Commission noted that when an employer defends on the ground that there was an idiopathic cause, the first step in the analysis is to ask did the claimant sustain an accident arising out of and in the course of employment, and if so, did the accident result in personal injuries. Then, if so, did the employer prove the injuries resulted directly or indirectly from idiopathic causes, and if so, the injuries are not compensable under the Statute. The Commission noted that the claimant failed to prove that he sustained an accident arising out of and in the course of employment because he did not prove that his injury came from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment, to which workers would have been equally exposed to outside and unrelated to the employment, in normal non-employment life. In essence, the claimant failed to prove that his fall was related to the fact that he was on the stairs. Therefore, an analysis as to whether the claimant's injuries resulted directly or indirectly from an idiopathic cause was improper.

 

Claim Denied Because Claimant Not Credible

 

In Meachum v. Dana Corporation, Injury No.: 07-034564,the ALJ found that the claimant sustained an injury to her low back by reaching into a basket and pulling out parts, which caused an L5-S1 disc herniation, and she sustained 15% PPD as a result of her injury. The Commission reversed the ALJ because they found that the claimant's testimony was not credible. The Commission found that the claimant's testimony was in stark contrast to the medical records, which noted the claimant had longstanding problems with her back and she had reported low back problems before the work accident. Also, in the medical records, there was no mention of the claimant reporting a work injury. There were multiple practitioners' records that noted a long history of back problems and failed to mention a work injury at all. Furthermore, the claimant testified that she had no memory of the circumstances surrounding her prior low back pain. She then testified that she was "fine" up until her March 23, 2007 injury. The Commission failed to see how the claimant was able to reconcile an inability to remember anything at all about her back before the work injury with a belief that her back was doing fine up until the date of the alleged accident. The Commission further noted that the claimant's inability to remember anything about her low back condition before her injury cast doubt on her testimony as a whole. Therefore, the claimant's testimony regarding her March 23, 2007 incident lacked credibility, and she failed to meet her burden of proof. Therefore, the Commission found the claimant did not sustain an accident at work on March 23, 2007.

 

In Parmeter v. Ramey's Automotive Machine Service, Injury No.: 07-016489,the ALJ found that the claimant failed to establish a compensable accident, and therefore, denied the claim. The claimant alleged that on January 16, 2007, he leaned over to pick up an engine head at work and felt a snap in his groin. At the hearing before the ALJ, the claimant acknowledged that he didn't remember the actual date that this happened. There were numerous contradictions between the claimant's account of what occurred and his statements set forth in the medical records. Also, the claimant's supervisor and two of his co-workers each denied that the claimant reported or otherwise complained of a back or groin injury on or about January 16, 2007. In light of the numerous inconsistencies and concerns identified by the ALJ, the Commission also found that the claimant lacked credibility as to the circumstances of the alleged accident and affirmed the decision of the ALJ.

 

Claimant Can Attempt to Prove Causal Connection Between Two Incidents Even Though Two Separate Claims Filed

 

In Pease v. Stockton R1 Public School, Injury No.: 07-080701, the claimant sustained an injury to her right knee when she fell at work in August 2007. Her treatment included surgery, after which she used a walker consistent with the treating doctor=s recommendations. In April 2008, the claimant fell again when she lost control of the walker while trying to open a door, and she sustained an injury to her left knee and elbow as a result of the fall. The ALJ found the April 2008 fall was a natural consequence of the 2007 injury, and included the injury to her knee and elbow from the 2008 fall in his determination as to the nature and extent of the employer's liability for the 2007 work injury. On appeal, the employer argued that since the claimant filed a separate claim for the 2008 fall, and because the 2008 fall met the criteria for an accident under the Statute, the claimant is precluded from proving a causal connection between the 2007 and 2008 events.

 


The Commission found that the employer's argument failed. The Commission noted that the Courts have held that when a compensable work injury is found to have occurred, every natural consequence that flows from that injury, including a distinct disability to another area of the body, is compensable as a direct and natural result of the primary or original injury. The Commission noted that the claimant is not prohibited from showing a causal connection between the incidents simply because separate claims were filed. Therefore, the claimant was entitled to make her case that the 2008 fall was a natural consequence of the 2007 work injury, despite filing a claim for both incidents.

 

Doctor Found Not Credible Because He Did Not Review Records From Prior Injury

 

In Doss v. St. Louis Public School, Injury No.: 07-124868, the claimant had numerous pre-existing conditions. He had two laminectomies along with fusions, one at L4-5 and another at L3-4. He also settled a workers' compensation claim for 7.5% PPD of the body and 6% PPD of the right knee. On December 21, 2007, the claimant sustained an accident at work when he slipped and fell in the school hallway. He treated at Concentra and was diagnosed with a lumbar strain. The claimant was then sent to a physiatrist for pain management. At the time of the hearing, he was still seeing pain management doctors for epidural steroid injections. The claimant noted that prior to his December 2007 injury, he could do a variety of activities. However, after this injury, he was unable to walk more than 10 feet before feeling pain. Dr. Doll, the doctor for the employer, opined that the December 2007 fall was not the prevailing factor in causing the claimant's current condition. Dr. Doll did not review any of the prior medical records, but testified that he believed that he had enough background to make a determination to a reasonable degree of medical certainty. The Commission was not persuaded.

 

The Commission noted that the claimant had an extensive and complicated history with regard to his low back and it did not believe that Dr. Doll could render a medical causation opinion without seeing any of the records from his prior treatment. Therefore, the Commission found Dr. Poetz, the doctor for the employee, more credible. Dr. Poetz opined that the December 2007 fall was the prevailing factor in causing the claimant's condition, therefore the Commission found that the claimant met his burden proving that his accident was the prevailing factor in causing both the resulting medical condition and disability. 

 

Claim Denied Because Untimely Filed

 

In Johnston v. ABC Seamless Siding & Windows, Inc. (Uninsured), Injury No.: 07-135219, the claimant was working for Jeremy Atchley, who was an independent contractor performing work for the alleged employer, ABC Seamless Siding & Windows (ABC). The ALJ found that Mr. Atchley was an employer because he held himself out as a contractor, and agreed to pay the claimant at an hourly rate. The ALJ determined that Mr. Atchley was the direct employer of the claimant, and ABC was liable to the claimant as a statutory employer. Both Mr. Atchley and ABC were uninsured. The claimant only filed a claim against ABC, and the issue here is whether the claimant timely filed his Claim against ABC. The ALJ found that the claim was not timely filed, and therefore, the claim was denied.

 

The owner of ABC testified that Mr. Atchley did not talk to him about the claimant's accident. It was also noted that ABC did not make any payments on his claim. The claimant filed an original Claim against ABC Roofing & Contracting (not the correct employer) on February 27, 2009. He filed an amended Claim on December 20, 2010, listing ABC Seamless Siding & Windows. The Statute of Limitations begins to run after the last payment was made on the claim, and in this case no payments were made on the June 21, 2007 injury by the direct employer, Mr. Atchley, or the statutory employer, ABC. Since a Report of Injury was not filed, the applicable three year Statute of Limitations began to run on the claimant's date of injury. Therefore, the claimant had until June 22, 2010 to file his claim. The Commission agreed with the ALJ and found that because ABC did not become a party to this case until December 20, 2010, the claimant did not file a timely claim against the statutory employer and his claim was denied.