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State ex rel. Varney v. Indus. Comm’n: Hand Injuries in Workers’ Compensation

State ex rel. Varney v. Indus. Comm’n, a case from the Supreme Court of Ohio, involved a claimant who was lost four fingers on his left hand in a workplace accident. This industrial accident occurred in 1983. Following the accident, three of the fingers were reattached completely and the forth was partially reattached. The fingers however, never regained their full functionality following reattachment.

cut-2-342876-m.jpgThe state workers’ compensation bureau awarded claimant benefits for the amputation of his four fingers after the accident, allowed a further claim for a one-third disability in his index finger in 1985, and another claim in 1990 for two-thirds loss of his other three fingers.

As our Boston workplace injury attorneys can explain, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Industrial Accidents allows for a lump sum payment of benefits in addition to standard workers’ compensation benefits when a worker has lost total or partial use of a hand below the wrist as a result of an on-the-job injury.

Around 20 years after the workplace accident, claimant applied for an award for the total loss of use of three fingers. The state workers’ compensation commission denied his claim on grounds that he had failed to provide any medical documentation to support his claim for a total loss of use for these three fingers. The commission also noted the amount of loss for his fingers had already been determined over 20 years prior to claimant filing this request.

Claimant appealed this denial to the intermediary court of appeals for the state, and the judges determined the commission had applied the wrong legal standard in denying his claim. The court issued a writ of mandamus, which is a legal order that a judge take a particular action. In this writ, the court ordered the commission to hold additional legal proceedings and apply the appropriate legal standard when making its finding.

At this point, employers’ insurance company filed an appeal with the state supreme court request the writ of mandamus be vacated on grounds that the commission had in fact used the correct legal standard when making its determination that employee’s claim should be denied. The Supreme Court agreed with insurance company that commission used the correct legal standard and ordered the writ of mandamus be vacated.

In reaching its conclusion, the court reasoned that the relevant state statute was very clear on how amputation of a finger or other appendage should be treated and what accurate compensation is supposed to be. In this case, claimant was adequately compensated for the partial loss of use of his hand following the accident. There is no statute that requires a finding of total disability with respect to his fingers once partial disability has reached a certain percentage, such as 66 percent, as claimant had asserted in his argument to the court.

In other words, claimant had already been fully compensated to the amount allowed under state law for the industrial accident that resulted in amputation of four of his fingers and was not entitled to additional compensation 20 years later.

Call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation claim– 1-888-367-2900.

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