NWCDN Members regularly post articles and summary judgements in workers’ compensations law in your state.
Select a state from the dropdown menu below to scroll through the state specific archives for updates and opinions on various workers’ compensation laws in your state.
Contact information for NWCDN members is also located on the state specific links in the event you have additional questions or your company is seeking a workers’ compensation lawyer in your state.
Simon Law Group, P.C.
720 Olive Street, Suite 1720, St. Louis, MO 63101
MISSOURI WORKERS’ COMPENSATION CASE LAW UPDATE
January 2023 – March 2023
Claimant Must Establish a Medically Documented Pre-existing Condition Significantly Aggravated the Primary Injury
Dubuc v. Second Injury Fund, Case No. SC99605 (Mo. S. Ct. 2023)
FACTS: The claimant sustained an injury in October 2015 when he fell off a ladder at work injuring his wrist, kidneys and low back. He settled with his employer for his primary injuries but alleged that he was PTD under Section 287.220.2 and that the Fund was liable for benefits due to his pre-existing disabilities, including multiple hernias and Factor V Leiden mutation with anti-coagulation and his primary injury.
Following the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge denied benefits because the ALJ determined the primary injury alone rendered him PTD. Claimant appealed and the Commission reversed the Award of the ALJ and awarded him benefits from the Fund. The Fund appealed.
While the case was pending the Supreme Court handed down Cosby, which required the claimant to meet the standards in Section 287.220.3 to prove his claim. Prior to Cosby, Section 287.220.3 applied only when both pre-existing and primary injuries occurred after January 1, 2014 but Cosby held that Subsection 3 applies when any injury occurred after January 1, 2014.
Thereafter, the Court of Appeals reversed the Commission’s Award and remanded the case, instructing the Commission to determine if the claimant was entitled to benefits from the Fund under Section 287.220.3. The Commission did not award the claimant benefits from the Fund.
HOLDING: The Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s decision. The claimant failed to establish his primary injury and pre-existing disabilities entitled him to PTD benefits from SIF under Section 287.220.3. He failed to establish any “medically documented” qualifying pre-existing disability that “directly and significantly aggravated or accelerated” his primary injury.
First, there was no “direct evidence” in the record of claimant’s hernias but only “self-reported history.” Claimant’s own statements about hernias noted by doctors in medical records were not considered “medically documented” because the doctors’ references to hernias were not based on records of diagnosis or treatment, but based on the claimant’s own statements.
Second, there was no showing that claimant’s Factor V Leiden mutation and anti-coagulation “directly and significantly aggravated or accelerated” his primary injury. When discussing the relationship between claimant’s pre-existing injuries and primary injury, Factor V Leiden mutation and anti-coagulation were omitted from the expert’s report. The claimant must show that “the impact of the pre-existing disabilities on primary injury is more than incidental; they must clearly exacerbate the primary injury in a meaningful way.”
Claimant’s Medical Evidence Must Show Pre-existing Disability Significantly and Directly Aggravated the Primary Injury
Swafford v. Second Injury Fund, Case No. SC99563 (Mo. S. Ct. 2023)
FACTS: Claimant’s primary injury occurred in October 2017 when he slipped at work while getting out of a truck. He was diagnosed with a moderately large rotator cuff and labrum tear. After settling his worker’s compensation claim with his employer, he went to a hearing against the Fund, alleging his pre-existing disabilities combined with his primary injury, rendering him PTD.
The claimant had multiple pre-existing disabilities including ankylosing spondylitis, various cardiac conditions for which he had undergone multiple procedures, and right shoulder pain since 2012. In 2016, prior his work injury, he was diagnosed with bursitis in his right shoulder, which required steroid injections every three to four months.
Following the hearing, the ALJ denied the claim, concluding that the claimant failed to demonstrate he suffered from a “qualifying” pre-existing disability under Section 287.220.3. The Commission agreed with the ALJ’s determination that the claimant failed to show his pre-existing disabilities “directly and significantly aggravated or accelerated” his primary injury pursuant to Section 287.220.3. Claimant appealed the Commission’s decision.
HOLDING: On appeal, the claimant challenged the Commission’s decision for allegedly disregarding the expert testimony he offered to establish a causal relationship between his pre-existing disabilities and his primary injury. The Court found that the claimant failed to establish that his pre-existing disabilities “directly and significantly aggravated or accelerated” his primary injury.
While the claimant’s medical reports establish that his pre-existing disabilities had some worsening effect on his primary injury, they were insufficient to show that the worsening effects rose to the level of significant and direct aggravation or acceleration. First, Dr. Lingenfelter’s “vaguely worded report” failed to establish “as a factual matter that claimant’s pre-existing disabilities ‘significantly and directly’ aggravated his primary injury.” He did not clearly articulate the extent to which any of those disabilities exacerbated that injury.
Second, Dr. Koprivica also provided “no medical evidence” that any of claimant’s pre-existing disabilities “directly and significantly aggravated or accelerated” his primary injury. While Dr. Koprivica stated that there was a “significant synergistic effect” between the pre-existing disabilities and the primary injury, that specific language relates to the standard for SIF liability prior to the 2013 amendments. Although medical experts need not use “magic words” (“synergistic effect”) associated with the less stringent standard (“combined with”) that qualifies for SIF liability under the pre-amended Section 287.220.2. Such language is insufficient under Section 287.220.3. Therefore the Fund was not liable for benefits.
Claimant Must Present Evidence Required to Meet All Statutory Requirements to Show PTD.
Weibrecht v. Second Injury Fund, Case No. SC99493 (Mo. S. Ct. 2023)
FACTS: Claimant’s primary injury was a low back injury he sustained at work in July 2016. After settling his claim with his employer, went to a hearing against the Fund alleging that he was PTD due to his pre-existing injuries to his low back in 2005 and 2009 and right shoulder in 2014 combined with his primary injury.
A hearing was held before the ALJ in May 2019. Before the ALJ issued her final Award, the Court handed down its opinion in Cosby finding that Section 287.220.2 applies when all injuries occurred prior to January 1, 2014 and Section 287.220.3 applies when any injury occurred after January 1, 2014.
After the hearing, but before the ALJ’s final Award, the claimant filed a motion to reopen the record for a supplemental hearing, contending that Cosby changed the law. He contended the Court’s decision in Cosby changed his burden of proof, which constituted “good cause” to reopen the record. The SIF argued that while the ALJ has authority to reopen the record in certain circumstances, doing so was not warranted under the facts of this case.
The ALJ denied claimant’s post-hearing motion and denied his claim for benefits from the SIF. The Commission affirmed the ALJ’s decision.
HOLDING: The Court affirmed the earlier decisions finding that the Commission did not abuse its discretion in affirming the ALJ’s denial of claimant’s post-hearing motions to reopen the record and submit additional evidence.
The Court pointed out that workers’ compensation law is entirely a creature of statute. Nothing prohibited the claimant from presenting evidence under both Sections 287.220.2 and 287.220.3 at his hearing. It was not against the logic of the circumstances and so unreasonable to indicate a lack of careful consideration for the ALJ to conclude there was no good cause to reopen the record when the Court had not previously interpreted Sections 287.220.2 and 287.220.3 and nothing precluded the claimant at from making alternative arguments. Accordingly, the ALJ did not abuse her discretion. Claimant should have been aware of what evidence was required to make a submissible case for PTD and the plain language of Sections 287.220.2 and 287.220.3 set forth the necessary evidence to make a submissible claim.
Upon Reaching MMI, Claimant Can Be Found PTD
LME, Inc. v. Robert Powell and Second Injury Fund, Case No. WD85427 (Mo. App. 2023)
FACTS: The claimant suffered a work injury to his back while operating a pallet jack. He underwent a lumbar decompression fusion by Dr. Bailey. He determined the claimant reached MMI and provided a 12.5% rating of the lumbar spine. Prior to the work injury, claimant had suffered disability to the back due to two prior motor vehicle accidents.
After he was released at MMI for the back, the claimant began treatment on his own for major depressive disorder. Prior to the work injury, he had been diagnosed as bipolar and had experienced depression and suicidal ideation since he was a teen. Furthermore, he had only a ninth grade education, no GED and a history of learning and behavioral problems.
Dr. Stuckmeyer determined that as a result of the work injury, the claimant sustained 35% PPD to the body in addition to a pre-existing 15% for lumbar and pelvis injuries from his previous car accident. In a subsequent report, he determined the claimant was permanently totally disabled as a result of the work injury after reviewing the vocational report of Mr. Cordray and psychiatric report of Dr. Hill who opined that the work accident was the prevailing factor for the claimant’s development of major depressive disorder and somatic symptom disorder, and he assigned 40% and 15% PPD for each disorder, respectively.
The ALJ found the claimant PTD and that the employer was responsible for benefits. The Commission affirmed the Award.
The employer appealed, arguing that the Judge and Commission erred by determining the claimant PTD by misstating the agreement reached by the parties regarding the claimant’s MMI date, because the employer only agreed that the employee reached MMI for his physical injuries, because the employer never accepted or admitted a psychological injury and therefore the employee cannot be determined to be PTD until he has reached MMI for all conditions.
HOLDING: The Court disagreed with the employer’s argument and affirmed the Award.
At the final hearing, both the claimant and employer stipulated on the record to the MMI date of April 12, 2018, the date Dr. Bailey released the claimant. There was no discussion or delineation between the physical and psychological injuries regarding MMI in the stipulated facts. By arguing that the employer accepted the back injury but not the alleged mental injury misconstrues that one of the purposes of the final hearing was to resolve whether the employee suffered any disability.
The Court also noted that the ALJ relied on the opinion of Dr. Hill regarding the psychiatric injury. He stated that the recommended treatments are not curative by any means, but may help improve the claimant’s daily life. Thus, contrary to employer’s position, such evidence supports that the psychiatric injury has reached the point where no further progress is expected or maximum medical improvement.
Objective Symptoms at Time of Accident Include Indications of Injury Perceptible to Others
Harper v. Springfield Rehab & Healthcare Center, Case No. SD37268 (Mo. App. 2023)
FACTS: The Commission stated in its rulings: “Claimant suffered an ‘unusual strain’ in her lower back when she pushed the heavy medicine cart…which produced objective symptoms of injury” based on claimant’s testimony that she “felt a ‘pull’ in her lower back” and “shortly thereafter (during the same work shift)…had difficulty walking.”
The employer appealed the Commission’s decision. They argued that the claimant had not sustained an accident under the law because the Commission “failed to establish objective symptoms of an injury at the time and place of occurrence.”
HOLDING: The Court stated that although the definition of “accident” in the statute has always included the phrase “producing at the time objective symptoms of an injury,” the changes to the statute in 2005 abrogated earlier case law interpreting the definition of “accident.”
They found that the adjective “objective” when used in combination with “symptom” means “perceptible to persons other than the affected individual.” They concluded that the statutory phrase, an unusual strain “producing at the time objective symptoms of an injury” should be interpreted to mean an unusual strain producing at (i.e. near) the time objective symptoms (i.e. indications perceptible by persons other than the claimant of the existence) of an injury (i.e. violence to the physical structure of claimant’s body).
The Court noted that the Commission found that the claimant “had difficulty walking” later in the same shift during which she suffered an unusual strain. Claimant’s difficulty walking would be perceptible to persons other than the claimant, indicated the existence of violence to the physical structure of claimant’s body, and was produced near the time of the unusual strain.
Therefore, the Court affirmed the Commission’s decision.
Claimant Not entitled to Additional TTD Benefits After MMI Because Refusal to Look For Work is Not Inability to Work.
Thompson v. CSI Commercial Services, Inc. and Second Injury Fund, Injury No. 10-087819
FACTS: The claimant testified at injured her low back on July 20, 2010. She underwent a fusion at L2-L3 with Dr. Robson on March 7, 2011. She testified the surgery did not relieve her symptoms. Dr. Robson opined in his reports that claimant’s continuing complaints following the March 7, 2011 surgery were related to chronic changes at L4-5 and L5-S1 level which were degenerative in nature and were not acutely injured during the work-related injury. Dr. Robson found her at MMI referable to the work injury on August 18, 2011 and released her from care with work restrictions.
Thereafter, the claimant agreed with her employer that she would not be able to continue working for the employer due to the work restrictions. TTD benefits were terminated as of August 30, 2011, due in part to the MMI report of Dr. Robson. The claimant testified she applied for and began receiving unemployment benefits upon termination of her TTD benefits and received unemployment benefits from September 2011 through December 2012. She also testified that since she left the employer, she has been unable to find a job and has not worked to date.
Claimant testified that when her unemployment benefits terminated in December 2012, she, at the urging of a few individuals, including her primary care physician, Dr. Maebe, applied for Social Security Disability benefits due to her back pain, surgery pain, anxiety, and depression. She was awarded SSD benefits as of January 8, 2013.
The employer sent the claimant back to see Dr. Coyle in 2016. She underwent a surgical fusion at L5-S1 May 22, 2017. Dr. Coyle released her to return to work on November 30, 2017 with restrictions of 30 pound lifting occasionally and 20 pounds frequently. The claimant testified that she had not conducted a job search since Dr. Coyle released her on November 30, 2017. She testified she cannot work due to back pain and lower extremity radicular pain and numbness. She also testified that she cannot drive a car very far from her home, and she is very limited in her daily life activities. She denied her vocational specialist, Mr. Kaver’s, testimony that she told him she had to rest in a reclining position for most of the day.
HOLDING: The Judge found that the claimant was entitled to 42.5% PPD as a result of the July 20, 2010 work injury and was not PTD. He also did not find any liability against the Second Injury Fund.
With respect to the issue of past TTD benefits, the Judge noted that Dr. Robson found claimant at MMI as of August 18, 2011. He further noted that the claimant received unemployment benefits through November 14, 2012 and in order to receive the same, the claimant needed to certify each week that she met the basic requirements such as being able to work and being available for full time work. Therefore, he found that the claimant was not entitled to TTD benefits from September 2011 through November 14, 2012 while she was receiving unemployment benefits.
The Judge noted that the purpose of TTD benefits is to cover claimant’s healing process. TTD benefits are owed until claimant can find employment or his condition has reached MMI. When further medical procedures are not expected, temporary benefits are not owed and a temporary award for additional TTD benefits is not warranted.
For the period of time of November 14, 2012 through November 8, 2016, the Judge found that the claimant was not entitled to TTD benefits from the time of her termination of unemployment benefits on November 14, 2012 through Dr. Coyle’s reexamination of her on December 8, 2016. Evidence from vocational specialist, Ms. Gonzales, indicated the claimant was capable of obtaining employment in the open labor market as well as medical evidence of MMI status from Dr. Robson and Dr. Coyle.
For the period of time of November 8, 2016 through November 30, 2017, the Judge found that the claimant was entitled to receive TTD benefits for a second period of time from Dr. Coyle’s December 8, 2016 reexamination of claimant and during her treatment by Dr. Coyle, including the May 27, 2017 surgery and post-surgical care until Dr. Coyle released claimant at MMI as of November 30, 2017. The right to TTD during the second period of time terminated based on Dr. Coyle’s MMI finding on November 30, 2017.
With regard to the period of time of November 30, 2017 to the present, the Judge noted that the evidence demonstrated that the claimant was capable of looking for work as of the date of MMI on November 30, 2017 but did not. He stated that in this case, a refusal to look for work demonstrates an unwillingness to return to work, not an inability to return to work. He found that the claimant is not entitled to any additional TTD benefits from Dr. Coyle’s release of the claimant on November 30, 2017 to the present.
The Commission affirmed the Award of the ALJ.
Awarding of Attorney’s Fees is in the Discretion of ALJ
Roe v. Darden Restaurants, Inc., Injury No. 18-074813
FACTS: Claimant attorney asserted a 25% lien on the gross proceeds paid in the case including payment of medical bills regarding claimant’s treatment for her September 13, 2018 injury. Initially, claimant’s attorney requested a list and accounting from the employer of all of the medical bills which had already been paid. Furthermore, the evidence shows that the employer notified claimant’s attorney in January 2020 that they intended to pay the remaining bills. Proof of such payment was forwarded in April 2020 to claimant’s attorney. Despite the foregoing, claimant’s attorney never advised his client the bills had been paid and proceeded to prolong the case for an additional two years, including a request for a deposition of a corporate representative to confirm payment of the bills.
Interestingly, at the hearing in March 2022, the employee testified she had never received a bill from any healthcare provider in connection with her injury.
Following the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge awarded compensation but limited the claimant’s attorney’s fees to 25% of the PPD awarded.
HOLDING: The ALJ noted that the determination of attorney’s fees is at the discretion of the Court. She noted that the efforts of claimant’s attorney after the bills were paid in 2020 were unnecessary. Although the claimant’s attorney did review the bills and send the employer’s attorney a couple of letters prior to the payment of the bills, the services provided were no more than the average workers’ compensation case might require. The majority of the claimed hours of work were after the bills had already been paid.
The Commission affirmed the ALJ’s award finding that the limitation of attorney’s fees to 25% of the PPD awarded was fair and reasonable.
Under Strict Construction, There are No Exceptions for the Late Filing of an Application for Review.
Gray v. Hawthorn Children’s Psychiatric Hospital and Second Injury Fund, Case No. ED110400 (Mo. App. 2023).
FACTS: On June 10, 2019, the Administrative Law Judge held a final hearing. On September 12, 2019, the ALJ issued the final Award denying benefits. The parties had 20 days from the date of the final Award to file an Application for Review with the Commission. The claimant attempted to mail her Application for Review on September 30, 2019, within the 20 day period, however, the mailing was returned to her by the USPS due to insufficient postage.
On December 3, 2020, the ALJ conducted an Evidentiary Hearing where the claimant offered testimony about the mailing. After considering the evidence from the remand Hearing, the Commission accepted the claimant’s Application for Review as timely. Thereafter, contrary to the ALJ’s decision, the Commission ordered employer to pay PPD benefits. The employer appealed.
HOLDING: The Court reversed the Commission and set aside the Final Award. It found that the Commission acted in excess of its powers when it accepted the claimant’s Application for Review. The claimant’s Application was untimely and the statute, under strict construction, does not provide a good cause exception to the 20-day deadline.
The Court explained that even if they accepted the claimant’s argument that the postage was sufficient (which they do not) and the USPS erred in returning the mailing for insufficient postage, the workers’ compensation statute does not provide exceptions for late filings so the Commission did not have jurisdiction to review the claimant’s Application.