Goff v. W. Va. Office of Ins. Comm’r – Worker Compensation for Loss of Eye

Per the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, Article 1, Section 97-31, there are is a schedule of injuries. This provision serves as a guideline for how much an injured worker should be awarded for certain losses. gavel2

For example:

  • Loss of a thumb – 66 and two-thirds percentage of the average weekly wages for 75 weeks
  • Loss of a great tow – 66 and two-thirds percentage of the average weekly wage for 35 weeks
  • Loss of a hand – 66 and two-thirds percent of the average weekly wage for 200 weeks
  • Loss of a foot – 66 and two-thirds percent of average weekly wage for 144 weeks
  • Serious facial or head disfigurement – a proper award not to exceed $20,000

The list goes on like this. Many other states have similar guidelines, and they are fairly straightforward. However, as the recent case of Goff v. W. Va. Office of Ins. Comm’r shows, sometimes there are complicating factors.

Plaintiff was a police officer for the state Department of Natural Resources when he was hit in the eye by a briar. Ultimately, after a serious infection, it was necessary for doctors to remove the eye. He was later fitted for a prosthetic, but has required ongoing treatment for conditions like conjunctivitis, blepharitis and other conditions related to problems with the eye socket itself. Additionally, the medical reports indicate worker has suffered permanent disfigurement to his face, around his eye.

Throughout the course of litigation, plaintiff was seen by a number of doctors. His total impairment rating was set at between 24 and 33 percent, based on the statutory awards for total and irrevocable loss of sight in one eye.

Nothing was awarded to plaintiff for permanent impairment resulting from ongoing problems with infections or related conditions of the eye socket or his permanent disfigurement.

Plaintiff appealed, arguing he was entitled to a finding of additional disability. In support of this assertion, plaintiff provided testimony by a doctor who recommended an additional 10 percent impairment rating.

The state workers’ compensation commission declined to award additional disability rating, citing state statute. Any additional impairment rating would result in double compensation for the same loss, the commission found.

Plaintiff appealed to the full board, which affirmed this decision. Plaintiff then appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

The question before the court is whether plaintiff was precluded from recovering additional awards for permanent disability caused by additional physical loss of his right eye, including disfigurement and ongoing infections.

The state supreme court reversed. It noted that the statutory language indicated that 33 percent disability rating was based on the functional loss of the eye. There is no mention in that provision of the resulting effects of the actual physical loss of an eye. Although the legislature did not stipulate what the compensation should be for the physical loss of an eye, the court held that plaintiff is not precluded from seeking an additional percentage of disability for it.

Where the legislature had stipulated a given amount for the “total loss of” a limb or digit, plaintiffs usually can’t also additionally recover for functional losses. However, where only functional losses are stipulated, plaintiffs shouldn’t be precluded from also collecting additional disability for the physical loss of the body part.

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

Additional Resources:

Goff v. W. Va. Office of Ins. Comm’r , Nov. 18, 2015, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Multiple Injury Trust Fund v. Sugg – Permanent Total Disability Benefits, Nov. 23, 2015, Greensboro Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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