The Missouri Court of Appeals issued another workers’ compensation decision last week, overturning a ruling by the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (LIRC). Both the content and the style of the appellate court’s ruling give a sense of frustration with the LIRC’s new, disturbing trend of denying coverage to hurt workers.
A “Legal Odyssey” of a Case Returns to the Court of Appeals
The case, Krysl v. Treasurer of Missouri, has been going on for a decade.
The worker is a sculptor. He started working in 1994. In 2012, he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, a “lifelong condition,” according to the doctors who testified. In 2013, he was diagnosed with severe right carpal tunnel syndrome – a result of using a hammer and chisel all day for work. He filed for workers’ compensation on July 5, 2016, and settled his claim for the carpal tunnel syndrome. This left only his claim against the Second Injury Fund for the complications and disabilities caused by his preexisting condition; his diabetes.
The administrative law judge awarded the worker compensation from the Fund. But the LIRC reversed it, claiming that Missouri Statute 287.220 banned claims against the Fund that were filed after January 1, 2014. The worker appealed and the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that it was the date of the injury that controlled. The court kicked the case back to the LIRC, telling them to reinstate the administrative judge’s award.
The Fund stepped in, saying that it wanted to challenge whether the worker’s diabetes was a “permanent” disability. The appeals court allowed them to make the challenge. The case went back to the LIRC, which decided that diabetes was not a permanent condition, even though no new evidence was presented and no arguments over the issue were actually made.
The worker appealed, again. On February 22, the Missouri Court of Appeals overturned the LIRC, again. The opinion shows the court's barely contained frustration with the Commission.
Court Roasts LIRC’s Incorrect Reading of the Law
The appeals court started its analysis by noting that the worker was challenging “the Commission’s statement of the relevant legal standard.” It then said, “We begin by discussing the correct legal standard,” slapping the LIRC by implication in the very first paragraph.
Noting that the only thing at issue was whether the worker had shown that his diabetes was a “preexisting permanent partial disability,” the court chastised the LIRC for misreading the statute. According to the law, these disabilities are “permanent in nature and partial in degree.” That is, they may only be partially disabling, but they last forever.
In the LIRC’s eyes, though, the disability had to be “permanent in degree,” instead. It was based on this incorrect reading of the law that the LIRC had denied the workers’ compensation award. Even though doctors had testified that diabetes was a “lifelong condition” and that the worker would “need active treatment… his whole life,” the LIRC had seemingly based its ruling on the fact that the worker’s diabetes had been treated and had improved. Because the degree of the disability was not unchanging and permanent, according to the LIRC, it was not a “permanent partial disability" that was compensable from the Fund.
The Missouri Court of Appeals had little patience for this flawed argument. It pointed out that the interpretation, “deviates from the statutory language” and the “plain and ordinary meaning of these words” and overturned the LIRC, again.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office Serve St. Joseph
If you or a loved one has been hurt at work in western Missouri, receiving workers’ compensation is a big part of the recovery. The LIRC is making it harder and harder to do so. Getting legal representation from the workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyers at the Smith Law Office is essential. Contact us online or call our law office at (816) 875-9373 for help.