Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Statutory Penalty Applies Retroactively

Statutory amendments in 2005 addressed penalty provisions of 287.510. Under the prior version, “the amount [of the temporary award] may be doubled in the final award. In the 2005 amended version, “the amount equal to the value of the compensation ordered and unpaid may be doubled in the final award.” The amendment avoids the windfall to the claimant when the employer later makes payments pursuant to the temporary award.

In Tina-Ball v. Blue Springs School District, No. 69628 (Mo App. May 5, 2009), the Western District retroactively applied 2005 changes to a 1995 case in which benefits had been doubled against Blue Springs School District and Hartford for medical and TTD benefits. Hartford ultimately paid the TTD benefits. The court found the employee did not have a “vested” right to obtain double benefits for TTD, when Hartford had paid the TTD, but affirmed the penalty of $176,127.90 because of unpaid medical benefits when the administrative law judge ordered treatment. The court further affirmed the award for permanent total.

In the case claimant, 34, eventually underwent a 2-level fusion and never returned to gainful employment. She states she developed back problems after she drove a bus for 6 years. The employer relied upon its expert a spine surgeon Dr. Ebelke that there was no such thing as repetitive back trauma, and that claimant’s activities were not that intensive since she had 3 hour breaks and never mentioned anything in her DOT physicals. The court deferred to the Commission’s determination regarding credibility of witnesses, nothing that the employee had introduced its own experts on causation and the only vocational evidence concluded that claimant’s use of narcotics and reported need to lie down presented formidable job restrictions to ever obtain gainful employment.