The Labor and Industrial Relations Commission recently made a shocking and disturbing decision in a workers’ compensation case: They expressly refused to apply the interpretation of the law from the Missouri Court of Appeals.
Injured Worker Recovers Compensation
The situation began in late January, 2017. A 62-year-old Wal-Mart employee, with a history of several medical conditions, was lifting a $500 bag of quarters into a machine. Soon after doing so, she experienced intense back pain. When she sought medical attention, doctors found a disc extrusion in her spine that was impinging her nerves. She underwent surgery to remove the herniated disc, but was never able to return to full-time work.
The worker filed a workers’ compensation claim. The administrative law judge decided that she had suffered a permanent partial disability to 20 percent of her body during the incident with the bag of quarters which, coupled with her prior injuries, rendered her totally and permanently disabled. The judge awarded the worker compensation from the Second Injury Fund.
Commission Strikes Down Award
The Second Injury Fund appealed the decision to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission. The Commission took issue with the administrative law judge’s reading of Missouri Statute 287.220.3(2)(a)(b). This section of the statute requires the Second Injury Fund to pay out compensation for permanent partial disabilities if the primary injury, together with an earlier injury listed in subsection (2)(a)(a), leads to a permanent total disability.
The Commission, reading this statute, said that the earlier injury had to be “a single, qualifying preexisting disabling condition” to be compensated from the Second Injury Fund. The Wal-Mart employee, however, had multiple prior injuries in her past, rather than a single disabling condition, and some of those prior injuries were not listed in (2)(a)(a).
The Commission struck down her award because the judge had considered those injuries that were not in (2)(a)(a).
Missouri Court of Appeals Recently Said the Exact Opposite
Not only is the Commission’s decision disturbingly narrow on its face, it also expressly contradicts a recent court decision by the Missouri Court of Appeals. That decision is Treasurer of the State of Missouri as Custodian of the Second Injury Fund v. Parker, which was filed on July 14, 2020, several weeks before the Commission’s decision regarding the Wal-Mart employee.
In Parker, the Court of Appeals rejected the notion that the preexisting disability had to be from a single injury that is expressly listed in (2)(a)(a). Instead, the Court of Appeals said that, so long as the injured worker had at least one injury listed in (2)(a)(a), other preexisting injuries or conditions could be considered for the disability determination, as well.
The Commission even acknowledged that the Court of Appeals had interpreted the statute in this way. Even though the Commission is bound by these court rulings, it refused to apply Parker because it “fundamentally disagreed” with the case.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office Serve St. Joseph
This new case is just the latest in a string of worrying decisions by the Commission that blatantly undermines the rights of injured workers in Missouri and St. Joseph.