Commission must consider access to labor market at time of hearing
Case name: Brown v. The Home Depot, No. 38076, 2012 Opinion No. 49 (Idaho 03/07/12).
Ruling: The Idaho Supreme Court vacated the Industrial Commission's finding that a worker was not permanently and totally disabled and remanded the case for the commission to apply the correct standard.
What it means: In Idaho, the commission must consider the worker's access to the local labor market at the time of the hearing in determining the worker's disability.
Summary: While delivering a cabinet to a customer, a worker slipped on snow-covered steps and injured his back. He received conservative treatment, but his condition worsened. He resigned from his job and underwent back surgery. He sought total and permanent disability benefits. The Idaho Industrial Commission denied benefits, stating that the worker's disability had to be evaluated at the time he reached maximum medical improvement. The Idaho Supreme Court vacated the commission's decision and held that the worker's access to the local labor market at the time of the hearing should be considered in determining whether he was 100 percent disabled or an odd-lot worker. The court remanded the case to the commission for a decision using the correct standard.
The court explained that a permanent disability rating is a measure of a worker's "present and probable future ability to engage in gainful activity." The word "present" implied an examination of the worker's ability to work at the time evidence is received. The court said that there is no "present" opportunity for the commission to make its determination other than the time of the hearing. A worker's personal and economic circumstances at the time of the hearing are relevant to the disability determination.
The court acknowledged that its holding could create an incentive for workers to "expedite or delay the hearing in order to take advantage of changing economic conditions." The court said that where the commission perceives that a party took action to manipulate the outcome of a disability determination, the commission can disregard the effect of the action and consider the applicable labor market at the time the hearing would have taken place.
In this case, a vocational expert opined that the worker was not competitive in the labor market. The court noted that the commission discounted her opinion as "not persuasive" because it was based on her evaluation of the worker's employability at the time of the hearing.
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May 3, 2012
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