While most workers’ compensation claims are going to hinge heavily on the degree to which a person is injured, there is another consideration: employment potential.
This is where the “odd-lot” doctrine comes into play. This is a legal consideration that provides that while a worker may not be completely unable to work, his condition is such that he won’t be regularly employed in any reasonably stable area of the labor market that would fit his services.
In these situations, it is the worker who shoulders the burden of proving there is a lack of opportunity for someone suffering from his particular condition, taking into account his education, experience and age. Usually, this is achieved by showing a worker diligently yet unsuccessfully sought work, but the only positions available were menial tasks for which there isn’t a stable job market.
Our Spartanburg workers’ compensation attorneys know that once a worker establishes his position in the “odd-lot,” it’s then up to the employer/insurer to counter with proof there is employment available to the worker on a reasonably continuous basis. Otherwise, benefits will have to be paid.
One recent case in which the “odd-lot doctrine” came into play was that of Gits Mfg. Co. v. Frank, a case that wound its way to the Iowa Supreme Court. That panel ultimately found the worker totally and permanently disabled, per the odd-lot doctrine.
According to court records, worker started her job as a spot welder and assembly line worker in 1997. Throughout her employment there, the high school graduate was exposed to various chemicals and dust agents that resulted in her diagnosis in 2006 with a chronic constrictive bronchiolitis. She had been experiencing respiratory problems in the four years prior, but was only diagnosed in 2006, when her doctor told her she had to stop working at the plant. She hasn’t been employed elsewhere since then, and hasn’t made an effort to look for work either. Her doctor found she had reached maximum medical improvement roughly three years later.
In seeking benefits, she presented evidence she is unable to work in any environment where there is dust, fumes, vapor or smoke. Her lung function was severely and permanently affected, resulting in 50 percent loss of breathing function. She reported she has “good days” and “bad days.” On good days, she can take short walks, feed her goats, mow the lawn and garden for short stints. On bad days, she can hardly get out of bed. She reported having bad days at least twice a week. She uses an inhaler daily, especially when going up and down stairs.
The worker later acknowledged that she could probably find work as a receptionist or in a clerical position, but she would need training and extensive accommodations from her employer. Plus, she can’t type with both hands and doesn’t have the skills needed to work in an office settling.
She cited the odd-lot doctrine as reason for her permanent total disability.
The employer’s counter-point relied heavily on the assertions that she could work again with more training. Problematically, the employer failed in its argument to take into account the worker’s age and medical condition in making that retraining possible. The tasks she was able to do around her home occasionally did not translate into full-time employment skills.
The commission granted her permanent total disability, which was then reversed by the district court. However, the court of appeals reversed that ruling and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed.
Therefore, the case was remanded back to the district court to determine the amount of permanent total disability benefit payments.
If you have been injured at work in Spartanburg, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Gits Mfg. Co. v. Frank, Oct. 17, 2014, Iowa Suprem Court
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