A recent workers’ compensation case made it to the Missouri Court of Appeals. In the case, Nivens v. Interstate Brands Corp., an injured worker applied to the Second Injury Fund for compensation after workplace injuries coupled with older medical conditions to make him unable to function on the job.
The case is a rare one that revolves around the Rule of Necessity, which allows even conflicted judges to rule on a case when there are no other alternatives.
Injured Missouri Worker Seeks Compensation from Second Injury Fund
The injured worker had been a delivery driver at the same company for 27 years when the wheel on a transport rack he was pushing locked up. His right knee wrenched and he fell down.
An MRI showed a torn meniscus, degenerative arthritis, and a potentially loose body in the knee. He had surgery and returned to work five months later. He was provided an assistant to help with the physical aspects of his deliveries for the summer, but when the summer ended he was told that he had to do the job, himself. He retired, instead.
Before the injury, the worker had suffered several other injuries, including a wrist injury, an earlier injury to his right knee, and several lower back injuries. He also had a preexisting heart condition.
Based on the earlier injuries and the newest one to his right knee, the worker filed for workers’ compensation, including a claim against the Second Injury Fund.
The administrative law judge decided that he had become permanently and totally disabled. The Fund appealed the award to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (LIRC).
Labor and Industrial Relations Commission Splits, Conflicted Judge Rules
When the case came to the LIRC on appeal, one of the commissioners, Curtis Chick, realized that he knew the injured worker from high school. Even though they had been friends 52 years earlier, Chick recused himself from the case.
The other two commissioners on the LIRC, though, disagreed over whether to affirm the workers’ compensation award. With the vote split one to one, Chick voted to uphold the award, invoking the Rule of Necessity.
The Fund appealed, again.
Missouri Appeals Court Affirms Use of the Rule of Necessity
The Missouri Court of Appeals agreed with how the LIRC handled the case.
Back in 1988, the LIRC had been presented with the same issue: One commissioner recused herself from a case, only to see the other two split. She returned to the case to cast a deciding vote. That case, Barker v. Secretary of State’s Office of Missouri, also got appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals. Noting that the workers’ compensation statutes were silent on what to do, the court created the Rule of Necessity for the LIRC. That Rule allows a conflicted judge to reenter a case whenever there is no arrangement made for a substitute judge.
The Rule of Necessity has been invoked several other times for LIRC decisions, and the Missouri legislature has never amended the workers’ compensation statutes to create a different mechanism for conflicted judges. Until they do so, judges with an interest in the outcome are going to continue to be able to cast votes when their two colleagues split.