Utah Supreme Court ruling overhauls workers' comp. payouts

Chris Rizo Apr. 10, 2009, 1:00am

Utah Supreme Court building

SALT LAKE CITY (Legal Newsline)-The Utah Workers' Compensation Fund must pay for costs for job-related injuries or illnesses only in proportion to the amount the condition was related to the job, the state Supreme Court ruled this week.

The high court's ruling Tuesday means that employees are responsible for the remaining costs of their job-related injuries. Until now, all of the costs were covered by the state's Workers' Compensation Fund.

In two cases, the justices said the state's Occupational Disease Act's reference to "compensation" does not refer to both medical costs and wages.

The first case involved a woman who developed carpal-tunnel syndrome, and the other case centered on a man who developed lower-back problems after working as a meat packer.

Jeffrey Smith submitted to the state evidence that 35 percent of his condition was attributable to his 25 years of employment as a meat packer.

An administrative law judge awarded him full payment of all reasonable and necessary medical expenses related to his lower back condition.

In the other case, Tamara Edmonds claimed that she developed carpal-tunnel syndrome while working for Ameritech Library Services.

An administrative law judge found that 10 percent of her wrist troubles could be attributed to Edmonds's work related activities.

She was awarded 10 percent of her medical expenses. But the state Labor Commission determined that medical expenses should not be apportioned in occupational disease claims and awarded Edmonds 100 percent of her medical expenses.

The decision was upheld by the Utah Court of Appeals, as was the court's decision in the Smith case.

The state Supreme Court reversed both appeals court decisions, and sent the cases back to for further proceedings.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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