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The Time of Hearing Decides the Labor Market

By Fred J. Lewis

On March 7, 2012, the Idaho Supreme Court decided the case of Brown v. The Home Depot. In this case the claimant had slipped on the snow covered steps while working for Home Depot and hurt his back. This Idaho Workers’ Compensation claimant had significant preexisting medical issues which included two prior back surgeries and the removal of his left lung. The claimant contended that he was totally and permanently disabled and sought recovery from both his employer and from the State of Idaho Industrial Special Indemnity Fund (ISIF). The Commission found that the claimant to have permanent disability of 95%, which meant that they did not find him to be totally and permanently disabled.

The Claimant appealed the Commission’s decision to the Idaho Supreme Court and argued the Commission correctly evaluated the permanent disability at the time he reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) for his last injury as opposed to the actual date of the hearing in his Idaho Workers’ Compensation case. This was significant because his MMI date was in late 2005, which occurred during a job market boom as opposed to 2009, when his hearing was held and Idaho was in the midst of the Great Recession.

In Stoddard v. Hagadone Corporation, the Supreme Court had held that the claimant’s labor market was properly evaluated at the time of MMI as opposed to the date of the hearing. The Commission had followed this holding from the Supreme Court and looked at the Claimant’s labor market and evaluated his disability at the date that he reached MMI. The Idaho Supreme Court distinguished the Brown case from its prior decisions and agreed with the claimant that the time of the hearing was the appropriate snapshot in time to evaluate the labor market access and remanded the case back to the Commission for a determination as to his disability at the time of the initial hearing in 2009. Upon remand to the Idaho Industrial Commission, the Claimant was found to be totally and permanently disabled in 2009 and was awarded full lifetime benefits.

The takeaway from the Brown case is to make sure that you are careful when your Idaho Industrial Commission hearing is scheduled because it will fix the snapshot in time when your disability will be determined.

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