Case name: Escobar v. Industrial Commission of Arizona, No. 2 CA-IC 2012-0001 (Ariz. Ct. App. 08/31/12).
Ruling: The Arizona Court of Appeals held that a worker was entitled to a scheduled award for his knee and ankle injuries incurred in the same accident.
What it means: In Arizona, multiple injuries to the same extremity incurred in a single accident are designated as scheduled losses.
Summary: A worker injured his knee and ankle at work. His employer accepted his claim for workers' compensation benefits. He underwent surgery, and an administrative law judge found that his condition was stationary and he had a scheduled, 5 percent impairment of his right lower extremity. The worker claimed that his injuries should have been treated as unscheduled disabilities. The Arizona Court of Appeals held that the worker's injuries were properly treated as scheduled.
The worker argued that an impairment of the ankle and knee in the same accident should be considered an unscheduled impairment rather than a scheduled impairment. He acknowledged that precedent required multiple injuries to the same extremity incurred in a single accident were designated as scheduled losses. Successive scheduled injuries received in separate accidents are compensated as unscheduled. The worker asserted that he shouldn't be treated differently just because his injuries occurred in the same accident.
The court pointed out that even if it agreed that policy considerations supported extending unscheduled benefits in his circumstance, the decision had to be made by the legislature. The statute suggested that important policy considerations were involved in the legislature's decision to extend unscheduled benefits to successive, scheduled injuries.
The court explained that the legislature created a special fund to compensate the employer of a worker with a preexisting scheduled injury who suffered a second scheduled injury. This encouraged employers to hire disabled worker by protecting the employers from increased compensation liability resulting from the combination of preexisting impairments and work-related injuries. This consideration was absent when the worker had no preexisting injury that would increase the employer's risk of greater compensation liability.
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October 29, 2012
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