In our last blog post on workers’ compensation law in Missouri, we looked at how it took an appeals court to say that injuries do not have to be instantaneous to be compensable through workers’ comp. An underlying issue in that case is how injuries can be subjective: Activities that hurt one person may not hurt someone else.
While this may seem obvious, at least one member of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (LIRC) either does not get it or is willing to use his own physical abilities as a standard against which other people are to be judged when they file for workers’ compensation.
Delayed Symptoms After Subjectively Strenuous Activity
The appeals court case is Harper v. Springfield Rehab & Health Center. It involves a 69-year-old nurse with enough physical ailments to be entitled to use disabled parking spaces. At work, she was pressed into moving a 100-pound medicine cart. When she moved it, she felt a pull in her back. She thought it was minor and kept working, but soon had trouble walking. She would eventually need back surgery that put her in a wheelchair for a year.
Employer’s Representative on LIRC Tries to Deny Her Case
When the administrative law judge (ALJ) found her to be permanently and totally disabled, the employer’s insurer appealed to the LIRC.
In a 2-to-1 decision, the LIRC agreed and affirmed the award.
The dissenting voice was the LIRC’s representative for employers in the state, Reid Forrester.
In supporting a denial of coverage, Mr. Forrester seems stunned that someone could get hurt when they “merely rolled a cart one or two feet against the wall,” ignoring, of course, the age and condition of the victim. He seems to imply that, if he can perform the activity without getting hurt, then everyone can.
Mr. Forrester also took issue with the idea that the victim experienced a “pull” in her back from moving the cart. Even though LIRC members rule on the record from the ALJ, do not hear witness testimony, and so are in a poor position to determine whether someone is credible or not, Mr. Forrester nevertheless decided that the medical experts who said that moving the cart caused back trauma lacked credibility and “must be disregarded.”
Finally, Mr. Forrester relied heavily on the delay between moving the cart and the physical symptoms that the victim suffered. While a delay can make it more difficult to pinpoint the source of the injury as something that happened in the workplace, a delay does not eliminate all possibility of doing so.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph, Missouri
As the employer’s representative on the LIRC, Mr. Forrester is expected to advocate for business interests in Missouri. That his arguments have gotten so bold that they stretch common sense to the breaking point in order to deny hurt workers the coverage that they need to overcome a workplace injury is disappointing. Unfortunately, his position causes problems: In this particular case, the points that Mr. Forrester made in his dissenting opinion for the LIRC were the exact points that the employer’s insurer raised before the Missouri Court of Appeals. The stance that he took on the LIRC likely led to the appeal into the state’s judicial system, further delaying the victim’s recovery and costing her additional attorneys’ fees.
The personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers at the Smith Law Office represent hurt workers in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, and the rest of western Missouri. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373.