The Missouri Supreme Court recently waded back into the waters of the Second Injury Fund, one of the most controversial aspects of the state’s workers’ compensation system. While its prior case dealt with Senate Bill 1 and its drastic limitations on who could benefit from the bankrupted fund, this new case is more about clarifying when the worker’s preexisting injury would trigger the Fund.
Injured Worker Seeks Compensation from Second Injury Fund
The case, Treasurer of the State of Missouri as Custodian of the Second Injury Fund v. Parker, involved a tree-trimmer who had two work-related injuries – one in March 2014 to his right elbow and shoulder, and another in June 2014 to his neck. Both required surgery. The neck injury required a cervical fusion surgery and led to the worker losing his job as a tree-trimmer. He got hired to stock shelves, but the pain from his injuries kept him from holding the job for more than a few weeks.
The worker filed a workers’ compensation claim against the Second Injury Fund (SIF) and was awarded permanent total disability benefits by the administrative law judge and the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission. The Second Injury Fund appealed the award.
Commission Botches Ruling
Even before the case made it to the Missouri Supreme Court, both sides agreed that the Commission botched the ruling.
The Commission relied on Missouri Statute 287.220.2 in awarding the worker compensation for his injuries. However, because of the amendments in Senate Bill 1, that section only applies to injuries that happen before January 1, 2014. The injuries in Parker happened in March and June, 2014.
Because of this clear error, the Missouri Supreme Court had to send the case back to the Commission for further review under 287.220.3 – the part of the statute that applies to post-2014 injuries. Before it did, though, the court answered some questions about what that subsection required.
Missouri Supreme Court Clarifies Second Injury Fund, Again
The Missouri Supreme Court said that, under 287.220.3, injured workers have to show two things to recover compensation against the SIF for a permanent total disability:
- They have to have at least one qualifying preexisting disability, and
- They then suffer another compensable work-related injury that, when combined with the earlier one, leads to a permanent total disability.
In trying to deny compensation to the hurt tree-trimmer, the SIF argued that the preexisting disability must have reached its maximum medical improvement before the subsequent injury happened. It supported this argument by pointing to the fact that the statute requires the preexisting injury equal at least 50 weeks of permanent partial disability.
Seeing that this would require the worker to predict the future and would mean that workers could be denied compensation simply because their subsequent injury happened too soon, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that it was enough for the worker to have the preexisting injury. They did not have to know that it would total at least 50 weeks of permanent partial disability before getting hurt, again.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
While only a minor one, the outcome of Parker is a win for hurt workers in Missouri. It means that they can recover compensation from the Second Injury Fund slightly more easily.
The workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyers at the Smith Law Office help hurt workers in St. Joseph, Kansas City, and Springfield, Missouri. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373.