We have discussed the meaning of voluntary abandonment in Ohio workers' compensation cases several times in the past. Most recently, we explored the potential consequences for the voluntary abandonment defense of Ohio House Bill 81, which went into effect on September 15, 2020.
We now have the results of the first case heard under the revised statute, and the news is generally good for workers. The Ohio Industrial Commission (IC) and Court of Appeals found for the employee in a case against Autozone. However, there is no indication that this is the end of the voluntary abandonment defense for employers. Rather, these cases will continue to be heard case-by-case.
What Happened in the Ohio Autozone Case
The claimant, an employee at Autozone, was injured on the job on June 15, 2020. He accepted modified work and continued in a light-duty capacity until he was terminated on September 16, 2020. The claimant had surgery related to the June 15 job injury on November 16, 2020, and filed a claim for temporary total disability (TTD) after the procedure, which was approved by the IC. The surgical procedure had been previously approved by the employer's Managed Care Organization (MCO). Autozone appealed the ruling, claiming that the employee was not eligible for wage replacement benefits since he was not working for the company at the time of his surgery—a classic voluntary abandonment defense.
However, the court found for the claimant because the "claimant's inability to work stemmed immediately from an impairment arising from an injury or occupational disease." In other words, the claimant had surgery because of the injury he sustained while working for Autozone and could not work for a period after the surgery. It did not matter to the court that the claimant had not worked at Autozone for two months prior to the surgery. That the surgery resulted directly from the work injury was enough to uphold approval of the TTD benefits to support the claimant in the recovery period following the surgery. The court rejected the employer's claim that the claimant's wage loss resulted from his termination in September, not his surgery.
This Was the Correct Ruling, But it Does Not Guarantee the Success of Every Claim
The court was right to uphold the IC's approval of TTD benefits following the claimant's surgery, and they did so with a close reading of the new statute. In their ruling, they stated that they "decline to extrapolate an additional requirement" on the statute as it is written. This indicates they will continue to apply the ruling tightly.
Does that mean every voluntary abandonment defense brought by an employer will lose? Absolutely not. Here, the only reason for the claimant's surgery was the work injury, and the reason he could not work afterward was the surgery. It did not matter that the surgery was not scheduled right away. The court was right to see that. However, a different case will present different facts, and the court could rule for the employer next time.
In a Voluntary Abandonment Case, an Ohio Workers' Comp Attorney Is Your Greatest Ally
At Monast Law Office, we have helped thousands of workers get the compensation they deserved after an employer fought against their workers' comp claim. Workers' compensation law is confusing and complicated. The good news is you don't have to understand it to file a successful claim or appeal: you just need an attorney on your side who will argue for what's right.
If you are collecting or requesting workers' comp temporary total (TTD) or permanent total disability (PTD) and you retire, quit, or are fired from your job, you are likely to face a voluntary abandonment claim by your employer. The company will try to save money by claiming that you should no longer be paid wage loss benefits because you left the job for reasons unrelated to the original injury. Before this happens, contact Monast Law Office for help.