A workers’ compensation case made it all the way to the Missouri Court of Appeals. Once there, though, the court made an interesting statement about how hurt workers can prove that they are “unemployable” because of a disabling injury.
At the very least, the court’s decision highlights the importance of vocational experts. At most, though, the repercussions could have disturbing consequences.
Truck Driver Slips and Falls; Spends Time in Jail
Way back on March 21, 2001, a Missouri truck driver slipped and fell while fueling his truck, hurting his knee, back, and thumb. He filed a workers’ compensation claim with his employer. He also made a claim against the Second Injury Fund, claiming that his fall aggravated a preexisting back injury.
Soon after the fall, though, the driver was convicted of a crime and sent to jail. He was released in 2004, but went back in after violating parole. He was in jail for the parole violation until mid-2007, but was sent back to jail on September 30, 2009. He died in jail on May 10, 2013.
It was not until January 30, 2015 that the driver’s workers’ compensation claim settled. His claim against the Second Injury Fund was denied, though. When the driver’s legal representative appealed the denial, it only got affirmed.
Appeals Court: Jail Term Affects Employability Determination
The driver’s claim against the Second Injury Fund argued that his fall, plus his preexisting back condition, made him permanently and totally disabled.
This meant the driver had to prove that he was “unemployable on the open labor market.”
Rather than hire a vocational expert as an expert witness, though, the driver relied on medical testimony and the fact that he could not find a job, afterwards.
The appeals court, though, brushed aside the fact that he was unemployed. Instead, the court noted that the driver “spent the majority of his life… incarcerated.” The court went on to say, “just because a person is unemployed does not necessarily equate with being unemployable.”
Why the Court’s Ruling is Disturbing
Proving that an injury made someone “unemployable” relies on numerous factors. One of them can be that the hurt worker could not get another job.
That the appeals court counted the driver’s unemployment against him because he was in jail, though, is a problem. While it is true that being unemployed does not make someone unemployable, relying on an independent reason for someone’s struggles to get a job to deny their claim that they are disabled from a work injury is a slippery slope. There are a lot of reasons for someone to not have a job. Allowing any of them to undercut a worker’s claim that they have been rendered unemployable by a work injury would leave a lot of valid claims uncovered.