Thursday, January 20, 2011

Brown Bagging It on ICAP cases

Once a month an administrative law judge has a brown bag lunch where he reviews cases of interest to those in the Colorado workers comp field. These cases are not readily available to the public although most attorneys in the field have access to the decisions. The Industrial Claim Appeals Office handles a great many appeals from hearings held at the local level. Many such cases never get appealed further and the next stage is to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Judge Eley is well liked and respected by most attorneys in this field and his free Brown Bag Lunch Seminar is well attended. Even if you cannot make it he emails you the materials and an audio of his presentation. Today is the January lunch and from the materials I have already received I note two cases that are exceptionally interesting to me and perhaps to most readers. The first can be called the Wheeler case. The claimant was admittedly permanently and totally disabled and thus entitled to PTD benefits. The issue was how to compute those benefits where they are paid out every two weeks perhaps for life. So the case involved AWW which is average weekly wage. The claimant when hurt at work was earning a very low figure if you look at her actual average wage. Respondents said it was under $75 a week. However vocational evidence was provided which helped show that the rate would be much higher then her actual wage at the time of the accident. While this must all relate to the date of the injury a Judge does have discretion to depart from your actual wage and consider loss of earning capacity. Here the difference was enormous though any calculations still are based upon the law as of the injury date. The judge applied the law as of the date of maximum improvement which was a mistake. The claimant still won big here.
The second case involved a fall at work. Caselaw tells us that not all falls at work are really work injuries entitled to benefits. The claimant in Landes was determined to have a work related tramatic brain injury injury which arose from work activities despite the fact he had amnesia and remembered nothing about the fall. Often Respondents will assert it is the claimants burden to prove his case and falls can come for many reasons. No change in the law from this ICAP decision favorable to the claimant so it is up to the hearing judge to decide on the evidence presented. There was a dissent that essentially said the evidence was speculative either way making the fall unexplained and not compensable.

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