Workers’ Comp Judge’s Ruling Upheld on Supplemental Earnings Benefits

Claimant was injured in a car accident on May 5, 2009 while working for the City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge (“Employer”). She was treated her for neck, back, shoulder, and knee pain and was released to return to work full time in modified sedentary work capacity in May 2010. Claimant was restricted from lifting certain weights, but she was allowed to drive a truck at work.

Later that month, Claimant missed five consecutive days of work without providing medical documentation as required by her employer. A dispute arose between Claimant and Employer over whether her treating physician had modified her work restrictions to allow driving while on the job. On May 18, 2010, Claimant was sent home for reporting to work without the required steel-toed boots and did not return. Employer considered this a terminable offense.

Accordingly, Employer suspended Claimant without pay and discontinued her Supplemental Earnings Benefits (“SEB”). Claimant filed a disputed claim form, claiming Employer wrongfully terminated her SEB. Claimant’s physician later modified her work restrictions again to only office activities and no excessive driving. Her restrictions were again modified to only light sedentary duty and no driving while she took narcotic medications. Employer subsequently terminated Claimant for abandonment of her job.

The issue before the Workers’ Compensation Judge (“WCJ”) was whether Claimant was entitled to SEB from the date of her suspension to the date of the hearing. The WCJ found that Employer owed Claimant eight weeks of SEB for the period that Claimant’s work restrictions were modified to restrict her to office-type activities and no excessive driving. The WCJ further found that Employer was not arbitrary and capricious in the handling of the claim. Claimant appealed, arguing that the WCJ made several erroneous factual determinations and erred in limiting the SEB to the eight-week period.

The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal held that the WCJ was not manifestly erroneous in finding that Claimant was only entitled to SEB for the eight-week period because that was the only time when her work restrictions prevented her from driving. Other than the eight-week period where her restrictions were different from the requirements of the available job, her work injury did not prevent her from working or earning at least ninety percent of her pre-injury wages. Instead, it was her suspension and termination for violation of Employer’s policies that prevented her from working. The WCJ’s ruling was affirmed and costs of the appeal taxed to Claimant.

Wolf v. City of Baton Rouge

Trevor M. Cutaiar