Stevens v. S.T. Servs., an appeal from the Minnesota Supreme Court, involved a claimant who began working at liquid storage facility in the late 1970s. In the mid-1980s, the claimant injured both shoulders and the year after his injury, his employer terminated his services.
For the next seven years after his termination, surgeons performed multiple operations on the claimant’s shoulders. During that period, the claimant applied for workers’ compensation benefits, and an administrative law judge (ALJ) awarded him benefits under a Temporary Total Disability (TTD) rating.
As your workers’ compensation lawyer can explain, a TTD rating is one of several classifications for benefits under a program administered by the Executive Office for Workforce Development for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
In Stevens, the parties entered into a settlement in the mid-1990s, whereby the claimant was to be awarded a disability rating of permanent and temporary total disability and found unfit for any type of employment.
Several years later, the claimant moved to Alaska and became a licensed plumber. He could not lift anything, but served as a consultant about plumbing issues. Eventually, he was offered a job as a consultant at a big box home improvement store, where he earned about $25 per hour.
He needed to return to Minnesota to undergo a medical procedure on his shoulders, and, when he was there, he had to meet with an investigator from the workers’ compensation insurance carrier. He disclosed his new job to the investigator. There was never any allegation that he attempted to commit any type of fraud with respect to his disability rating.
The insurance company made a motion to the workers’ compensation commission to terminate the payment of workers’ compensation benefits, due to the fact that he was now employed. The court referred the case for a hearing, even though one dissenting judge concluded that, under state law, once a person is declared permanently disabled, that decision is not reversible. After the hearing, the claimant was deemed not permanently disabled, and the insurance company was issued a credit to reimburse them for the disability award paid to the claimant. However, the claimant was not required to repay any money, because there was not a determination that the claimant was acting in bad faith.
Both parties appealed this ruling. The claimant wanted to retain his total disability rating under their settlement agreement, and the insurance company felt that the claimant should be required to repay the company, despite the fact that there was no showing of bad faith.
The appellate court held that the issue is not whether the claimant was disabled at the time of the filing of the petition to terminate workers’ compensation benefits, but rather his condition at the time of the initial determination. In Stevens, the parties entered into a settlement agreement that indicated that the claimant was permanently disabled. The fact that the plaintiff now had some type of employment did not negate the earlier finding of a disability, and the agreed upon settlement was binding. The cases was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
If you are injured on the job in Massachusetts, call Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation claim: (617) 777-7777.
Stevens v. S.T. Servs., July 29, 2014, Minnesota Supreme Court.
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