December 21, 2016
WC Appellate Division Decision issued on December 21, 2016 - Change of Circumstances
Below is a summary of a decision of the Appellate Division of the Workers’ Compensation Board issued on December 21, 2016. Please contact any member of the Norman, Hanson & DeTroy workers’ compensation practice group if you have any questions concerning the implications of this decision.
Change of Circumstances
The employee sustained an occupational injury in 2006 and was awarded benefits for a closed-ended period of incapacity in a 2010 decree. He was able to return to work to his former employer with accommodations, as he continued to experience restrictions related to the injury. Ultimately, the employee was laid off in October 2013 due to general economic conditions.
In McLaughlin v. State of Maine Department of Defense, Etc., App. Div. Dec. No. 16-49 the ALJ concluded that the layoff was a sufficient change of circumstances to override the res judicata effect of the prior decree, even where the employee had been out of work at the time of layoff for non-occupational reasons and had then subsequently gone back to school on a full-time basis. The Appellate Division affirmed the ALJ and held that a layoff from an accommodating position is in itself a sufficient change of circumstances to qualify for a re-examination of benefit entitlement status. The fact that the employee was out of work at the time of layoff for reasons unrelated to the underlying injury was irrelevant, as medical evidence showed that he continued to remain restricted as a result of the injury. Furthermore, the Division recognized that in Tucker v. Associated Grocers of Maine, 2008 ME 167, 959 A.2d 75 the Law Court held that an injured worker who then returns to school full-time does not forfeit entitlement to benefits for partial.
Accordingly, the Division found that the ALJ had appropriately applied the law and the award of ongoing benefits for partial incapacity was affirmed.