Author: Miles Gibson
Payment of Temporary Total (TT) disability benefits is the number one cost driver in workers’ compensation. Over the past few years the Ohio Supreme Court has decided several cases involving employees who have separated from their employment then requested temporary total disability benefits. In January 2015 the Ohio Supreme Court decided the case of State ex rel. Wingate 141 Ohio St.3d 533 (2015).
Brian Hildebrand injured his back while working as a mechanic for Wingate Transport. He returned to work the following day with a note from his doctor modifying him to light duty. The Company confirmed they would provide him with light duty work.
Previously, Mr. Hildebrand had been in an accident totaling his motor vehicle. The Company loaned its employee the use of a Jeep. However, he continued to use the Jeep for six (6) months. After his injury Mr. Hildebrand had a conversation with the owner of the Company, Mr. Wingate, who requested he return the Jeep he had been loaned. As a result of that conversation, Hildebrand became agitated and asked if he was being fired. Mr. Wingate replied that he was not being fired, but it was time for him to stop using the Company’s Jeep. Mr. Hildebrand became upset and began loading tools and equipment into the pick-up truck of another owner-operator. Mr. Hildebrand’s employment was terminated. Mr. Hildebrand filed for unemployment benefits, but the Department of Job and Family Services determined that he had quit his job for personal reasons without just cause and denied unemployment benefits.
Mr. Hildebrand also requested temporary total benefits in his workers’ compensation claim arguing that at the time of his separation from employment he was under work restrictions, as a result of the allowed conditions in his claim.
With this factual situation the Court found that Mr. Hildebrand failed to demonstrate that his loss of earnings was due to his industrial injury and hence, did not meet the requirement for receiving temporary total benefits. The Court ruled if the injured worker leaves the work force for reasons unrelated to the industrial injury there is no loss of earnings due to the injury and the employee is not eligible for temporary total compensation.
Whenever an employee either quits or is fired it is important to make an inquiry as to whether or not the quitting or termination had anything to do with pain and/or disability as a direct result of the allowed conditions under a workers’ compensation claim. Where, as in this recent case of the Ohio Supreme Court, there is no proof that there is a relationship between the injuries and the termination of employment. Temporary total will be barred.
In addition, it is important to remember that when an employee quits their job or is terminated for reasons unrelated to an injury claim the burden of proof is on the employee to establish a relationship between the job action and the claim.