A worker was struck in the right eye by a piece of metal. He went to an urgent-care facility, where his vision was tested at 20/25. An ophthalmologist surgically removed the metal piece and repaired a laceration in his cornea. The worker subsequently developed a cataract. The employer accepted a workers' compensation claim for a corneal foreign body, lacerations of the right eye and a traumatic cataract. A doctor surgically removed the cataract and repaired the lens with an intraocular lens implant. Before the cataract surgery, his vision measured 20/30. Following surgery, his vision improved to 20/25.
The worker sought benefits for the loss of vision in his right eye based on the cataract surgery. A doctor concluded that he had an 8 percent vision impairment as a result of the injury. A staff hearing officer granted benefits for a total loss of vision.
The employer appealed, arguing that the worker's loss of uncorrected vision did not exceed 25 percent prior to surgery as required. The Industrial Commission vacated the officer's decision and denied the worker's request for loss of vision benefits. The appeals court agreed with the denial of benefits. The worker appealed.
Was the appeals court correct in denying benefits to the worker?
A. Yes. The worker did not have the required 25 percent loss of sight entitling him to an award.
B. No. The removal of the worker's natural lens during the cataract surgery resulted in a total loss of vision because the worker permanently lost a natural part of the eye that is necessary for sight.
C. No. The work-related injury was causally connected to the removal of the worker's cornea, resulting in a loss of sight.
How the court ruled: A. The Ohio Supreme Court held that the worker was not entitled to an award for a total loss of vision. State ex rel. Baker v. Coast to Coast Manpower, L.L.C., No. 2010-0211 (Ohio 06/09/11).
The court explained that the loss of vision is determined by the measurement of uncorrected vision after the injury but before corrective surgery, including a lens or cornea transplant. For even a partial loss of sight award, the injured worker must establish a 25 percent loss of uncorrected vision. Here, the worker did not reach the 25 percent threshold.
B is incorrect. The court declined to adopt a bright-line rule that a worker is entitled to an award for total loss of vision any time the natural lens or cornea of the eye is surgically removed as a result of a workplace injury. A dissenting judge opined that the majority treated a lens implant as restorative, rather than corrective. The judge said that the worker met the 25 percent threshold because without the replacement lens, he could not see. The judge also said that the worker was deprived of compensation because he followed his doctor's orders and underwent surgery before the injury completed its damage.
C is incorrect. The court explained that this argument disregarded the requirement that a worker must sustain a 25 percent loss of vision to be entitled to benefits.
is the legal editor of the WorkersComp Forum.
This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
July 20, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications