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Court: Post-Retirement Claim Stemming From Prior Work Injury Valid

Most people assume workers’ compensation benefits can only be claimed for the time period in which the worker is employed by that company. This is false.
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A worker can seek compensation benefits for an earlier work-related injury if the negative effects are ongoing. This is true whether the worker is now employed somewhere else or even if they’ve retired (so long as the retirement is related to the work injury). And in the recent case of State ex rel. Honda of Am. Mfg., Inc. v. Indus. Comm’n, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled a retired worker does not have to prove he or she suffered economic loss as a result of the ongoing injury in order to collect.

Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers understand this case stemmed from long-term ailments directly related to employment with an auto manufacturer.

The worker first began employment with the firm in 1988. In 2003, he suffered contusion and tendonitis of the right wrist and related injuries, as well as an anxiety disorder. He was granted workers’ compensation on these claims.

He received temporary total disability compensation intermittently until 2008. At that time, a district hearing officer determined his conditions had reached maximum medical improvement. His compensation was terminated. He then enrolled in a Medically Inactive Transition Program, a recovery and treatment plan for workers unable to perform their duties for an extended period of time due to medical ailments. During part of that time, he received long-term disability benefits from the company’s private insurer.

After 130 weeks in that program, the insurance company determined the worker was capable of work outside of his old employer, and terminated benefits. There was no available position at his old employer, so rather than termination, he opted for an early, age-based retirement.

A year later, he underwent surgery on his wrist. He then applied for temporary total disability for the time frame during which he would be recovering post-surgery. An administrative law judge granted his request, and it was affirmed by a hearing officer.

The employer appealed to the commission, arguing that his benefits ended when he retired. The employee countered that the only reason he retired was due to his industrial injury. He wanted to return to work, he said, but couldn’t due to the injury.

The commission ruled that the worker hadn’t voluntarily retired or abandoned the work force. Further, the employer hadn’t argued those points anyway. The only point the employer argued was that the worker hadn’t suffered an economic loss as a result of his injuries, and therefore, they shouldn’t be compensable.

The employer filed a complaint with the appellate court, alleging abuse of discretion and a mistake of law. A magistrate reviewed that claim and disagreed. The case was then appealed to the state supreme court.

The employer argued the worker had retired a year before the surgery, wasn’t employed, hadn’t looked for work and there was no evidence he intended to reenter the workforce. The employer insisted that regardless of whether the retirement was voluntary, the worker was not eligible for disability benefits because he hadn’t suffered an economic loss attributable to his work injury.

The high court ruled that did not matter because retirement was related to the injury. In such cases, the court indicated, it wasn’t necessary for the claimant to obtain employment before filing another claim. Further, the ex-employer had presented no evidence indicating the worker had entirely abandoned the possibility of working again.

Therefore, the claim was compensable.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.

Additional Resources:
State ex rel. Honda of Am. Mfg., Inc. v. Indus. Comm’n, May 7, 2014, Ohio Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Fighting for Ongoing Medical Coverage for Work-Related Injury, April 4, 2014, Atlanta Work Injury Lawyer Blog