Humphrey v. Lowe’s – Voluntary Exit in Workers’ Compensation Claim

Temporary total disability benefits (TTD) are benefits available to a worker while he or she is unable to perform key job duties because of a job-related injury. These benefits may be available even to former employees under workers’ compensation, but there are exceptions. forklift1.jpg

For example, if a worker removes himself from the workforce voluntarily and for reasons not related to his injury, he may not be able to collect TTD. He may still be entitled to coverage of certain medical costs directly stemming from the injury, but TTD could be denied.

This was the case recently in Humphrey v. Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, Inc., though details of employee’s departure are sharply disputed.

Our Greenville workers’ compensation attorneys know that TTD can be an important lifeline for those who have been hurt on-the-job. We are committed to helping our clients obtain the coverage they deserve.

In the Humphrey case, there was no question the underlying injury was compensable. The issue was whether the worker’s exit from the job for reasons not related to his injury was grounds to deny him TTD.

Plaintiff worked at a warehouse store as a stocker in Alaska in 2009 when a shelf fell on top of him, causing him to suffer a back injury. He was initially treated for back pain and allowed to return to work two months later, so long as his duties were modified to eliminate heavy lifting. His chain store employer moved him to a number of positions in order to accommodate the restrictions, but he continued to have pain.

A few weeks after his return, he was disciplined for reasons not related to his injury. A few weeks after that, he received a performance evaluation that was generally favorable. However, less than a week after that, he gave his two week’s notice to the company, citing personal reasons. Specifically, he stated he had no transportation to get to work any longer, and he and his girlfriend were losing their home and would likely move out-of-state. However, he stipulated on the notice that the situation might change.

He later said he changed his mind and expressed a desire to stay. However, he contends on what would have been his last day, he was called in to speak to the store manager and was told to either resign or be fired. The store manager denied this conversation took place.

Regardless, he left. He continued to receive medical treatment, even after he and his girlfriend moved to Nevada. He then filed a claim for Alaska workers’ compensation, including medical benefits and TTD benefits from the date of his departure through the date of his back surgery, and a declaration of permanent disability from the date of the 2011 surgery on.

The state board of workers’ compensation decided the injury was compensable and he was entitled to past benefits. However, they found he was not yet medically stable from the surgery, so a determination regarding his permanent disability could not yet be rated. It denied him TTD from the time of his departure because he left voluntarily for reasons not related to his injury.

This finding was upheld by the state commission (though it reversed on the issue of attorney’s fees). Plaintiff asked for a reconsideration, and the commission denied this motion. He then appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which granted review.

The high court affirmed the commission, ruling there was substantial evidence the worker had left his job for reasons not related to his injury, and in so doing, voluntarily removed himself from the labor market for a period of time. He could not be considered temporarily totally disabled because his medical providers had cleared him to work with limitations, which the company was accommodating.

Had the worker left for reasons related to his injury (i.e., lack of accommodation), then his injuries may have been compensable with TTD.

He will still receive benefits, just not to the full extent for which he had hoped.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Humphrey v. Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, Inc., Oct. 16, 2014, Alaska Suprem Court

More Blog Entries
Barzey v. City of Cuthbert: On Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits and Other Heirs, Oct. 14, 2014, Greenville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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