In the last month, we have covered multiple workers’ compensation cases where the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission expressly refused to follow decisions by the Missouri Court of Appeals.
It is very easy to underappreciate just how problematic this is. It essentially means that the Commission has gone rogue to deny injured workers’ claims.
Commission Refuses to Follow Court Decisions
Both cases involved the Second Injury Fund.
In one, the Commission said that only single disabling injuries could combine with new ones to produce a permanent partial disability compensable by the Second Injury Fund. The injured worker had multiple disabling injuries in her past, so the Fund did not have to compensate her. This ruling cut against Treasurer of Missouri v. Parker, and the Commission admitted it.
In the other, the Commission said that the date of a workers’ compensation filing mattered for occupational disease claims resulting in permanent disabilities. The Missouri Court of Appeals, in Krysl v. Treasurer of Missouri, had decided that it was the date of the injury. The Commission noted the discrepancy, and claimed that they “respectfully disagree with the interpretation” in Krysl.
A Review of the Workers’ Compensation Claim Process
It is important to recall just how workers’ compensation claims wind their way through the justice system.
Injured workers start by reporting their injury to their employer. A mediator can help the worker and their employer resolve their dispute, or a conference can be held with an administrative law judge. If the worker does not feel like they have been adequately compensated, they can file a workers’ compensation claim with the Division of Workers’ Compensation. This claim will be handled by an administrative law judge.
Injured workers can appeal the administrative law judge’s decision to the Commission. They can appeal the Commission’s decision to a Missouri Court of Appeals. A final appeal can be made to the Missouri Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeals Binds the Commission
Importantly, every subsequent step in this process binds the earlier ones: If the Missouri Supreme Court interprets a workers’ compensation statute one way, then everyone – the Court of Appeals, the Commission, and the administrative law judge – is required to adopt that interpretation and apply it to the cases before them. They do not have the discretion to interpret the law in a different way. If they did, it would be a chaos of contradictory interpretations of the law.
Because the Court of Appeals is above the Commission, then, the court’s rulings are to be applied by the Commission. The Commission does not get to “respectfully disagree with the interpretation” by the Court of Appeals. Instead, the Commission is supposed to apply what the Court of Appeals said to the cases before the Commission.
It is one thing for the Commission to draw distinctions between their case and what the Court of Appeals has said in the past. If the Commission can show that a court’s prior ruling was not on point for the case before the Commission, they can go their own way. The Commission has not done this. They have explicitly said that the Court of Appeals has interpreted the law one way, but that the Commission is going to ignore it.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
The workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyers at the Smith Law Office represent injured workers in St. Joseph, Kansas City, and Springfield, Missouri. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373.