Ohio Supreme Court affirms disability ruling in favor of injured worker

By Zachary Lewis | Jul 31, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline) – The Supreme Court of Ohio has affirmed an appeals court's ruling against freight shipping company R&L Carriers Shared Services LLC in a disability compensation dispute filed by the Industrial Commission of Ohio and one of R&L Carriers’ employees.

The ruling was made July 19 and allows the Industrial Commission to grant permanent-total-disability compensation to Terry Phillips, a former employee of R&L Carriers.

The case began in 2011 when Phillips injured his right arm while he was lifting boxes on a trailer. He filed for and was granted Workers' Compensation for “traumatic right biceps tendon tear, complex regional pain syndrome, major depressive disorder, single episode, severe without psychotic features with significant anxiety,” the opinion states.

Afterward, Phillips claimed his condition had worsened and had failed to participate in retraining, instead petitioning the Industrial Commission for permanent-total-disability compensation in 2013. Unwilling to accept Phillips' disability application, R&L Carriers filed a motion to depose a pair of fact witnesses. The commission denied the motion.

An officer from the commission held a hearing to determine whether Phillips was eligible for disability. It was decided his claims were warranted after reviewing reports from three medical experts.

In turn, R&L Carriers filed a complaint in the Court of Appeals for the 10th District stating the order mandated by the commission was not supported by evidence and argued it had a right to conduct prehearing depositions. R&L Carriers also filed a writ of mandamus ordering the commission to either vacate its decision and deny Phillips' compensation or file for a new hearing and allow for pre-hearing depositions.

A magistrate was recommended to preside over the case. In the magistrate’s assessment, two of the medical professionals’ reports on Phillips’ condition were “unreliable.” The magistrate ordered the commission to remove the reports as determinants in Phillips’ case by writ of mandamus. 

However, the remaining doctor’s report was found to be satisfactory, and the publishing date of the report was ordered to be the start date for Phillips’ disability benefits.  

R&L Carriers objected to this decision and appealed. But the appeals court sided with the magistrate and issued a writ of mandamus to the limited extent recommended by the magistrate. A petition to the Supreme Court of Ohio was filed by R&L Carriers to review the case under the following points: whether the doctor’s report was evidence for disability benefits; if the commission considered his refusal to partake in retraining in their decision; and if the commission overstepped their authority by refusing the motion to depose of fact witnesses.

The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the appeals court. The court considered the doctor’s report ample evidence to justify the Industrial Commission’s decision to award disability benefits to Phillips. 

The court also ruled that the commission was not required to authorize the depositions under Ohio Adm. Code 4121-3-09 (A)(2), nor was the commission required to consider Phillips’ failure to participate in the retraining when the disability suffered is from a medical impairment.  

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