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This month a Houston court of appeals rejected the Division’s definition of the term “imbecility”
for purposes of determining entitlement to Lifetime Income Benefits.
The case involved Francisco Chamul, a brick mason who fell from a scaffold onto a concrete slab
ten feet below, suffering multiple skull fractures and consequential brain injury. According to a
designated doctor he now functions at the level of an 11 or 12 year-old and will require a caretaker
for the rest of his life. He applied for LIBs.
Under Labor Code §408.161, LIBs are payable for an injury to the brain resulting in incurable
“insanity or imbecility.” However, the statute does not define the term “imbecile.”
A Division hearing officer found that Chamul was not entitled to LIBs. The hearing officer cited
prior decisions of the Appeals Panel which rely on a definition of the term “imbecile” in the 1991
edition of Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. That dictionary defines “imbecile” as a
“mentally deficient person, especially a feebleminded person having a mental age of three to seven
years and requiring supervision in the performance of routine daily tasks or caring for himself.” The
hearing officer determined that Chamul had not been shown to exhibit the mental age range in
question (a mental age of three to seven years).
The court of appeals reversed and remanded to the Division for further proceedings. It noted that
the Legislature added imbecility as a criterion for LIBs in 1917 and that dictionaries written at that
time included more generalized definitions of the term “imbecile” and did not limit the term to the
mental age range of three to seven years. According to the court, the 1991 dictionary on which the
Division relied is “not an appropriate source to discern the meaning of a term incorporated into a
statute more than 70 years earlier.”
Chamul v. Amerisure Mutual Ins. Co.