Workers' Comp decision upheld in Alaska

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 2, 2011, 2:01pm


JUNEAU, Alaska (Legal Newsline) - The Alaska Supreme Court has affirmed the decision of the state Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission that denied a Wal-Mart employee's claim for disability benefits.

The Court, in its 19-page opinion filed Feb. 11, said because it found no error in the commission's decision, it upheld it.

The Wal-Mart employee, Evelyn Rivera, twice injured her back while working at the retail superstore.

After initially paying workers' compensation benefits to her, Wal-Mart filed a notice of controversion.

According to Court documents, the company's physician thought Rivera had suffered only a temporary aggravation of a preexisting lower back condition that should have healed by the date of controversion.

After a hearing, the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board denied Rivera's claim. She then appealed to the Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission, arguing that the board failed to make findings on material issues and did not evaluate the lay testimony she presented.

The commission affirmed the board's decision.

Justice Dana Fabe, who authored the Court's opinion, pointed out that Rivera was able to return to work shortly after sustaining her injuries.

"Because disability compensation is based on loss of earning capacity due to medical impairment and not on impairment alone, Rivera's continued ability to work at Wal-Mart after sustaining her injuries showed that she was not totally disabled from work," the Court wrote.

"In Rivera's case, everyone agreed that she experienced pain and that it restricted her work activities. But the evidence showed that she worked her regular hours at Wal-Mart, in positions with lighter duties accommodating her injuries, after her on-the-job injuries."

As far as the lay testimony, the Court said it "corroborated facts that the doctors accepted -- that Rivera suffered back pain that limited her activities."

The lay testimony, it said, was not material to the contested issues, so the board was not required to make findings about it.

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