The Law Office of Kurt H King

June 26, 2012

Permanent Total Disability Depends On Whether The Worker Can Compete In the Open Labor Market

When is an injured Missouri worker Permanently Totally Disabled?  While not breaking new ground, the June 14, 2012, decision of the Southern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals in Larry Underwood v. High Road Industries, LLC (Opinion SD31731), illustrates Missouri law on the test used to determine if the worker is Totally or just Partially disabled.

The court of appeals stated the test as follows on page 12 of its decision, quoting the Western District’s words in an older case:

     “The test for permanent total disability is whether the worker is able to compete in the open labor market.  The critical question is whether, in the ordinary

     course of business, any employer reasonably would be expected to hire the injured worker, given his present physical condition.”

What this means is that the injured worker need not be 100% disabled to be found Permanently Totally Disabled (PTD).  In this case, the worker (Underwood) was rated at 40% disabled by his independent exam doctor, while the treating doctor selected by the employer found only 13% disability.  Both ratings seem low in view of the chronic back and right side pain from a fall on concrete due to ladder failure while installing a radiator in a truck as part of his job as a diesel mechanic.  The fall left Underwood in severe and chronic pain to the point where the employer/insurer paid for surgery to implant a spinal cord stimulator.  Even though the stimulator relieved 40% of the pain, Underwood still suffered constant throbbing pain and some numbness, such that sleep was difficult and he could only stand or sit for 30 minutes at a time.  And, he could only drive 10 miles at a time.  Even this amount of driving contradicted the advice of the stimulator company that he should not drive when the stimulator was active because it could send false signals down his right leg.  But with the stimulator off, the pain was nearly unbearable.   With the pain, the hydrocodone and Tramadol pain medication every 4-6 hours, his 10th grade education and below-average intelligence scores, Underwood would be unable to retrain academically or otherwise. 

Even the employer/insurer’s treating doctor restricted Underwood to no more than 1 hour sitting or standing at a time.  The employee’s vocational expert testified that this restriction demoted Underwood into a category of “less than sedentary work capacity.”  The expert explained that “anybody that can’t do sedentary work is unemployable.”   The court of appeals agreed and affirmed the Labor and Industrial Relations Commision’s award in favor of Underwood finding him to be Permanently Totally Disabled.

What may lie behind the scenes in this case is the employee’s refusal to accept a lump-sum settlement offer from the employer/insurer.  Apparently, the employer/insurer declined to offer Underwood the amount of money he thought he should receive.  Without settlement, the case proceeded to trial.  Unfortunately, even though Underwood won at trial, all the judge can award him under Missouri law is that the employer/insurer pay a small weekly sum to him for life, and also pay his medical expenses related to the injury.  The employer/insurer may in the future refuse to pay some medical expenses sought by Underwood which will result in more litigation to force payment.  Too, the small weekly compensation amount tends not to be a great burden upon the employer/insurer.  So while Underwood won his case for PTD,  the result may end up a draw or even a victory for the employer/insurer due to small weekly amounts of money they  will have to pay to Underwood.

Kurt H. King

Law Office of Kurt H. King, 20 E. Franklin, Liberty, Clay County, Missouri 64068

816.781.6000

Workers’ Compensation, Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Wrongful Death

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy for debtors

Family Law–Divorce, Modifications, Paternity, Child Custody, Support & Visitation

www.kurthking.com

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