Watson v. Wal-Mart Assoc., No. 442, 2010 (Del. 10/21/11).
Ruling: The Delaware Supreme Court held that a laborer was a displaced worker, so he was entitled to total disability benefits.
What it means: In Delaware, an employer's failure to rehire an injured worker is strong evidence that he is a displaced worker.
A laborer for a retailer suffered a back injury while working. He underwent surgery, which did not relieve his pain. His doctor found he suffered a permanent partial disability and limited him to sedentary or light work with a 20-pound lifting restriction. The retailer sought to terminate his total disability benefits. The parties disputed whether the laborer was a displaced worker. The Delaware Supreme Court held that the laborer was a displaced worker entitled to total disability benefits.
The court pointed out that the laborer applied for 28 jobs without success, including six identified by a vocational case manager. The laborer acknowledged that some of the jobs were beyond his medical restrictions, but the court said it was not unreasonable for him to think an employer might want to hire him and modify his workload to conform to his restrictions. The two employers who responded to his applications said they could not hire him because of his partial disability. The court concluded that the laborer's job search was reasonable.
The court also noted that the retailer did not find a job within its many stores that the laborer could perform, and it "did nothing" to help him find a job elsewhere. The court said the retailer's failure to rehire him was strong evidence that he was a displaced worker. The retailer did not show that appropriate jobs were available and that prospective employees would hire a person in the laborer's position.
The court said that the purpose of the displaced worker doctrine is to provide full workers' compensation benefits for workers who are partially disabled but unable to find work because of the disability. Workers should not be denied benefits unless it is clear that appropriate jobs are available.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
December 12, 2011
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