Employer Accommodations Defeat Claim for SEBs

In Frazier v. Covenant Services Worldwide, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal was called upon to review a workers’ compensation judge’s ruling denying supplemental earnings benefits to a claimant, among other issues. In the case, claimant, a security guard, was injured during a training exercise at work, and she subsequently had three shoulder surgeries. Her treating orthopedist eventually found that she had reached maximum medical improvement, released her from his care, and approved a new security officer position offered to claimant by her employer. However, after one shift, claimant left work, citing ongoing shoulder pain. Claimant did not return to work again and filed a disputed claim for compensation contending that her employer unlawfully terminated wage benefits. The trial court rejected claimant’s request.

On appeal, the court began its analysis by noting that, in Louisiana, an employer’s offer to place the employee in a position that she could do in spite of her injury defeated the employee’s claim for supplemental earnings benefits. The court then noted that the record reflected claimant’s treating physician’s approval of the new position, as well as the geographic proximity of the new position, and found that claimant had not carried her burden of proof, that is, she did not prove that her injury resulted in her inability to earn 90% or more of her pre-injury wages. Although claimant alleged that her pain prevented her from working, the court noted that her treating physician opined that she would always have shoulder pain but that she could return to work with restrictions, which were considered by the employer and resulted in numerous consolations prior to the claimant leaving work.  The appellate court therefore affirmed the trial court’s ruling denying Claimant supplemental earnings benefits.