In Greer v. Sysco Foods, justices affirmed a decision by the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission to allow employees to receive workers’ compensation benefits years after certain injury claims are already settled.
Expressing dismay with the decision, the president and CEO of the state Chamber of Commerce and Industry vowed to take the issue up with the legislature at the next session. The chamber, though not a party to the case, had filed an amicus brief in support of the employer in the case.
According to court records, worker was involved in a forklift accident nine years ago. He was standing on a stationary forklift inside a freezer at the warehouse, trying to scan an inventory pallet. The scanner gun wasn’t working properly, which prompted the worker to lean forward. As he did so, his left leg extended outside the running lines of the forklift. At the same time, a co-worker driving another forklift passed by, and the other machine grabbed his foot, causing it to be crushed between the two vehicles. The result was a foot and ankle injury. There was no question the incident was work-related, and he was awarded temporary total disability benefits through workers’ compensation during the initial phases of his treatment.
Ultimately, he reached maximum medical capacity, which is the point at which doctors believe a person has improved as much as they are possibly going to. That meant temporary benefits were severed, and he started to receive permanent disability pay, which took into account his disability rating. This is the percentage of total disability a person has suffered as a result of their injury, and benefits for medical bills and lost wages are awarded in either lump sum or in the form of ongoing checks.
Ultimately unable to perform his duties at work, he voluntarily resigned from his employment.
Fast-forward three years. The employee pursued additional medical care, and petitioned to amend the original award. After reviewing the facts of the case, the state labor commission awarded worker with temporary total disability payments – even though doctors had already decided he had reached maximum medical improvement.
The state’s chamber of commerce president sharply decried the action, saying that temporary disability payments can be made for up to 400 weeks, and even then, are reserved for the most extreme cases, in which workers have suffered catastrophic injuries, such as paralysis or brain damage.
To be clear, the ruling does tip the balance of workers’ compensation cases slightly in favor of workers. However, that may not necessarily be a horrible thing, considering that for years, workers’ compensation benefits have been systemically stripped as a result of intense lobbying from business interest groups. A ProPublica article detailing the “Demolition of Workers’ Compensation” nationally revealed that in Missouri just in the last decade has:
- Strictly limited the type of injuries covered (making it tougher for workers with repetitive stress injuries and occupational diseases to qualify);
- Slashed insurer and employer liability standards when a work injury aggravates an existing condition;
- Reduced benefits by 25 to 50 percent if the injury resulted from failure to follow company safety rules (that was alleged in this case too, though the assertion was sharply disputed);
- Increased the burden of proof for permanent and total disability;
- Clarified that occupational diseases, unintentionally barred under a 2005 law, were in fact covered under workers’ compensation, which meant workers couldn’t sue employers for it;
- Limited compensation from a special fund that provides added benefits to disabled workers deemed more severely disabled by a new workplace injury.
South Carolina has had a number of similar reforms. The Greer case is one example of how the courts can begin to stem this tide of unfairness toward injured workers.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Greer v. Sysco Foods, Dec. 8, 2015, Missouri Supreme Court
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Workplace Violence in Hospitals Addressed by OSHA, North Carolina Legislature, Dec. 10, 2015, Spartanburg Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog