The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine recently reversed an award by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board that had granted an employee specific loss benefits for the amputation of a finger, but also permitted the employer to offset incapacity benefits paid after the injury, but before the amputation. The court found that the employer was not entitled to the offset [Scott v. Fraser Papers, Inc., 2013 ME 32, 2013 Me. LEXIS 34 (Mar. 21, 2013)].
The employee suffered a crush injury to his hand and was out of work for some six months. During that time period, the employer voluntarily paid total incapacity benefits for that period. After the employee returned to work, his condition deteriorated and a finger had to be amputated. It was undisputed that the employee was entitled to specific loss benefits because of the amputation for a period of thirty-eight weeks, which in this case amounted to approximately $19,000. At issue was whether the employer was entitled to an offset for the incapacity benefits it paid before the amputation, which totaled almost $14,000.
The high court acknowledged that under some circumstances, specific loss benefits could be coordinated with other workers’ compensation benefits. For example, in Boehm v. Am. Falcon Corp., 1999 ME 16, P 11, 726 A.2d 692, the employee suffered a work-related injury resulting in the immediate loss of a finger. The employer paid total incapacity benefits for eight months and partial incapacity benefits for nine months while the employee recovered from her injury. The Board subsequently awarded the employee specific loss benefits for the loss of her finger, in addition to the benefits received from her incapacity. On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the employee was entitled to specific loss benefits but that the employer was entitled to offset those benefits by the amount of the incapacity benefits it had already paid. In Boehm, the court reasoned that Maine’s workers’ compensation law did not permit concurrent payment of incapacity benefits and specific loss benefits when the injury and the amputation occurred simultaneously.
The court continued that in Boehm, the employee’s injury and amputation were concurrent. Here, several months passed between the employee’s injury and the amputation of his finger. Therefore, during the period immediately following the injury when the employee was receiving incapacity benefits, he was not eligible for specific loss benefits. The court stated further that reading Boehm to apply only when an employee was entitled to incapacity benefits and specific loss benefits at the same time was consistent with the distinct treatment of injuries listed in Maine’s specific loss schedule.