Case name: Tarbet v. J.R. Simplot Co., No. 38096-2010 (Idaho 11/02/11).
Ruling: The Idaho Supreme Court held that a company was liable for all of an operator's income benefits.
What it means: In Idaho, to prove a worker's employability, an employer must show that there is an actual job within a reasonable distance from the worker's home that he is able to perform or be trained for that he has a reasonable opportunity of being hired to perform.
Summary: A pump operator was using a heavy industrial steam cleaner to clean a pump when the cleaner recoiled, pushing him backward. He felt pain in his arms and hands and sustained an injury to his cervical spine. He underwent surgery that damaged his vocal cords. Later, he reinjured his cervical spine while loosening bolts on a pressure relief valve. He underwent a second surgery, and his physician assigned permanent restrictions. The operator had preexisting conditions, including arthritis, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, deafness in one ear, a knee injury, and lower back injuries. The operator sought benefits. The Idaho Supreme Court held that the company was liable for all of the operator's benefits.
The company argued that the operator's preexisting conditions combined with the effects of his work-related spine injury to render him totally disabled. The court said that the company had to show that the operator would not have been totally and permanently disabled if he did not have the preexisting impairments. The court noted that the operator was 62 years old, lived in a small community, and had performed heavy physical labor for the company for 36 years. The company did not point to skills he acquired that were transferable to a job he could perform with his physical restrictions.
The operator was unable to obtain a job offer after a 14-month job search. The company did not show there was an actual job within a reasonable distance of the operator's home that he was able to perform or could be trained to do and that he would have a reasonable opportunity of being hired to perform. The court found the operator was totally and permanently disabled under the odd-lot doctrine.
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December 22, 2011
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