Missouri Court Affirms Award for Fall in Employer’s Parking Garage

45-Year Employee Did Not Face Similar Risk in Non-Employment Life

A Missouri appellate court affirmed a decision by the state’s Labor and Industrial Relations Commission that awarded workers’ compensation benefits to a hospital employee who sustained injuries in a fall near an exit of the hospital’s employee parking garage [McDowell v. St. Luke’s Hosp., 2019 Mo. App. LEXIS 538 (Apr. 16, 2019)]. Construing Missouri’s relatively restrictive “arising out of and in the course of employment” standard, which denies benefits if the hazard or risk is one to which the worker would have been “equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal nonemployment life” [Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.020.3], and distinguishing an earlier decision by the state’s Supreme Court, the appellate court agreed with the Commission that the employee’s fall was occasioned by her need to pull and maneuver a two-wheeled cart containing work-related supplies through a congested entryway. She faced no such hazard in her normal, nonemployment life.

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Deeply Divided MS Court Says Deceased Employee’s Ex-Wife May Impose Lien for Child Support

Lien Allowed in Spite of Fact that Children Had Been Adopted by Step-Father

In a 5-4 decision, the Court of Appeals of Mississippi held the biological children of a deceased employee (and their mother) enjoyed a lien against the employee’s workers’ compensation death benefits for almost $35,000 in unpaid child support in spite of the fact that the children had been adopted by their step-father after their biological parents divorced [Young v. Air Masters Mech., 2019 Miss. App. LEXIS 152 (Apr. 16, 2019)]. The Commission had found that in as much as the children were not dependent upon the deceased employee at the time of his death, they enjoyed no special status or interest in the death benefits.

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Ohio Supreme Court Says Federal Employment Standards May Not Be Used to Determine if Claimant Was Part of Workforce

An Ohio appellate court erred when, in trying to determine if a claimant was part of the active workforce, it turned to an article describing how the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics counts farm workers in its Current Population Survey, held the Supreme Court of Ohio in a split decision [State ex rel. Vonderheide v. Multi-Color Corp., 2019-Ohio-1270, 2019 Ohio LEXIS 701 (Apr. 9, 2019)]. No authority supported the use of such federal guidelines to determine eligibility for Ohio workers’ compensation benefits. Moreover, the majority of the Court held those federal standards would count claimants as employed for purposes of TTD-compensation eligibility in violation of the principles espoused in Ohio case law.

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Kansas Supreme Court Reiterates: “Idiopathic” and “Unknown” Are Not Synonyms

Case Sent Back to Board for Determination Consistent With its Holding

In a case of first impression, the Supreme Court of Kansas, affirming a decision of the state’s Court of Appeals, held that “idiopathic” is not a synonym for “unknown” [Estate of Graber v. Dillon Cos., 2019 Kan. LEXIS 67 (Apr. 12, 2019)]. Quoting Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law extensively, the high court defined “idiopathic causes,” which may not be used to establish a workers’ compensation claim [see Kan. Stat. Ann. § 44-508(f)(3)(A)(iv)(2018)], as medical conditions or medical events of unknown origin that are peculiar to the injured individual [emphasis added]. The Court stressed that the plain language of the statute rendered an injury non-compensable only upon proof the injury or accident arose directly or indirectly from a medical condition or medical event of unknown origin peculiar to the claimant. Accordingly, the Court remanded the case back to the state’s Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (“Board”) for additional consideration.

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Colorado DIME Physician's Opinion Not Always Given Presumptive Deference

DIME Physician’s Opinions as to the Cause of Engineer’s Narcolepsy Not Afforded Special Deference

By virtue of a special Colorado statute [Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-42-107(8)(b)(III)], a division-sponsored independent medical examination (DIME) physician’s opinions concerning maximum medical improvement and impairment are given presumptive weight. That sort of deference is not, however, to be given a DIME physician’s opinion as to causation, held a division of the state’s Court of Appeals [see Yeutter v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office (CBW Automation, Inc.), 2019 COA 53, 2019 Colo. App. LEXIS 549 (Apr. 11, 2019)]. Accordingly, where an engineer sustained admitted, serious injuries, including a skull fracture in a work-related accident and, more than a year later, developed a sleep disorder that several medical experts said was consistent with narcolepsy, a DIME physician’s opinion that deferred to the opinions of three treating specialists who had earlier indicated the condition was causally connected to the workplace accident was not entitled to presumptive deference. Continue reading

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Rhode Island’s “Work-Sharing” Benefits Not Used in Computing AWW

In a case of first impression, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island held that “benefits” received under the state’s “work-sharing” program [see R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-44-69] are not to be utilized in computing the average weekly wage (“AWW”) of an injured worker. Stressing that the usual meaning given to the word “wage” refers to payment for labor or services rendered [emphasis added], the Court said that work-sharing benefits are monies paid by the state for hours not worked [emphasis added]. Accordingly, they align with traditional unemployment compensation benefits, which are likewise paid to an individual by the state during times when he or she is not working, and which are not used to compute the AWW.

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Nebraska Deputy’s Fatal Injuries in Auto Accident Not Compensable

Deputy Was on Cell Phone Exchanging Shift-Change Information at Time of Crash

A deputy sheriff’s death in an automobile accident did not arise out of and in the course of his employment in spite of the fact that, at the time of the accident, he was on his cell phone exchanging shift-change information with another officer who had just come on duty, held a Nebraska appellate court, in Coughlin v County of Colfax, 27 Neb. App. 41, 2019 Neb. App. LEXIS 97 (Apr. 2, 2019). The court stressed that while the exchange of information between the two officers was expected by the employer, the manner of that exchange was not so controlled; the deputies used the cell phones for their own convenience. Other options existed, indicated the court.

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Exclusive Remedy Defense Protects Some Employers In Spite of Express Indemnification Agreement

Landlord Could Not Implead Tenant/Employer In Injured Employee’s Suit Where Employer Was Not Negligent

The exclusive remedy provision of the Delaware Workers’ Compensation Act [Del. Code Ann. tit. 19, § 2304] is so strong, held a state superior court, that it negates—at least in some circumstances—an express indemnity clause contained in a real estate lease [Verbitski v. Diamond State Port Corp., 2019 Del. Super. LEXIS 163 (Apr. 4, 2019)]. Accordingly, where an employee sued his employer’s landlord for work-related injuries sustained in an accident that occurred in the parking lot of the leased premises, the landlord could not maintain a third-party claim against the employer in spite of the fact that the employer had expressly agreed to indemnify the landlord. The court stressed that public policy demanded the indemnity provision be inapplicable to claims made by the employee against landlord which were not attributed to the employer’s negligence.

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Florida’s 6-Month Limitation on Temporary “Physical-Mental” Benefits is Constitutional

A Florida appellate court has upheld the constitutionality of a provision within the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act [§ 440.093(3), Fla. Stat.] that cuts off temporary benefits for psychiatric injuries six months after a claimant reaches (physical) maximum medical improvement [Kneer v. Lincare & Travelers Ins., 2019 Fla. App. LEXIS 5131 (1st DCA, Apr. 3, 2019)]. Thus, where a claimant filed a petition for temporary partial disability benefits related to his back injury more than 18 months after he reached MMI, his claim was appropriately barred by the JCC.

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No Recovery for Home-Based Workers’ Comp Adjuster Who Trips Over Her Dog

Deeply Divided Florida Court Says Risk of Tripping Did Not Arise Out of Employment

Emphasizing that eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits turns on whether the employment led to the risk of injury, i.e., whether there was a sufficient causal connection between the employment and the injury [see 440.02(36), Fla. Stat.], a deeply divided Florida appellate court reversed an award of benefits to a home-based worker who sustained injuries when she tripped over her dog as she reached for a coffee cup in her kitchen [Sedgwick CMS v. Valcourt-Williams, 2019 Fla. App. LEXIS 5350 (1st DCA, Apr. 5, 2019)]. Acknowledging that injuries sustained during breaks from work could be compensable under the personal comfort doctrine, the majority of the court stressed that in this case, the risk of injury did not arise out of the employment.

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