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If You Are Collecting Workers Compensation Benefits and Are Out of Work, You May be Out of Luck

If you were laid off but are collecting workers compensation benefits, expect those payments to come under scrutiny. The state Appeals Court recently issued a decision (Medlin v. Weaver Cooke Construction) that could possibly result in the loss of those benefits.

Claude Medlin worked as a project manager and estimator for Weaver Cooke Construction. He was hired in 2006. He injured his right shoulder while moving furniture at a worksite in May 2008. He continued to work until being laid off in November 2008.

The following month Weaver accepted plaintiff’s injury as compensable and he began receiving medical treatment. In January 2009, Medlin started collecting unemployment benefits and in February 2009 he started collecting both workers compensation and temporary total disability benefits.

Medlin had surgery and physical therapy and was released to return to work. He subsequently felt more pain and a second physician assigned permanent work restrictions. He sought work but was not successful.

The need to prove work related disability is cause of unemployment.

Weaver sought to have Medlin’s workers compensation benefits ended in December 2010. It claimed Medlin couldn’t establish a work related disability and the poor economy was the reason he wasn’t working, not his injury. The full Commission agreed and Medlin appealed.

The Court of Appeals agreed with that decision, stating that an injured worker must prove that his injury caused his inability to find work. The judges ruled Medlin failed to do that because of evidence he was physically able to work, but couldn’t, because of the slow economy. Though he showed evidence of a diligent job search, it wasn’t relevant. In prior decisions, the Court has tended to consider extent of “diligent” job searches, economic conditions, and the actual job availability. If this decisions stands, these factors will have much less or no importance is reviews of ongoing disability.

A large part of my practice involves helping injured workers obtain and maintain workers compensation benefits. I believe that the Medlin case may encourage more insurance companies to move to cut off disability payments using the slow economy argument. If you find yourself in the same situation, or a similar situation as Mr. Medlin, where you’re collecting workers compensation benefits while you’re unemployed and your former employer wants to end those benefits, contact my office to discuss what’s going on and your legal options.