Nurse's earning ability can't be based on snapshot of wages at one time
Case name: Schossow v. State of Wyoming ex rel., Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division, No. S-10-0183 (Wyo. 07/15/11).
Ruling: The Wyoming Supreme Court held that a nurse was not entitled to permanent partial disability benefits or vocational rehabilitation benefits.
What it means: In Wyoming, to determine an injured worker's ability to earn a living, the worker's preinjury wages and work schedule, the nature of her injury and the resulting physical limitations, her postinjury employment history, and her postinjury employment prospects should be considered.
Summary: A nurse was lifting a comatose patient when she felt a "pop" in her back and her leg went numb. She underwent surgery. After surgery, she was no longer able to work as a nurse due to restrictions imposed by her doctor. When she was released to work, she began working at a different medical facility for a lower salary that she previously earned as a nurse. She sought permanent partial disability benefits or vocational rehabilitation benefits. A vocational evaluation revealed that there were three jobs available to the nurse with a salary "95 percent or higher than her salary" at the time of her injury. The Wyoming Supreme Court held that the nurse was not entitled to benefits.
The nurse asserted that her earning capacity had to be calculated based on the wage she earned immediately upon returning to the workforce following her injury. The workers' safety and compensation division argued that the focus should be on an injured worker's actual ability to earn. The court said that an injured worker's ability to earn a living cannot be determined in a "vacuum" or be "based on a static snapshot" of a worker's employment status and wage at any one time. The nurse's assertion could inhibit the division's ability to accurately assess a worker's earning capacity and limit the availability of benefits to workers. It could also discourage workers from seeking employment after an injury.
The nurse's initial return to work was on a part-time basis. At the time of the hearing, the nurse was earning more than she earned prior to her injury. The court found that the nurse failed to show that due to her injury, she was unable to return to work at a wage at least 95 percent of her preinjury income.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
August 25, 2011
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