A Missouri appeals court issued a decision this week likely to please the state’s Republican-led Legislature.
On Tuesday, the appellate court in St. Louis said a Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission employee was not injured in the course of his employment when his knee popped. Mitchell Miller, the crew chief for a group of road workers laying asphalt on Route N in Pike County, said he felt his right knee pop while he was walking back to his truck to retrieve some asphalt amalgam for the job. He said he didn’t know why his knee popped; he had not tripped over anything.
Miller underwent surgery, but after a while, his pain came back and worsened. He applied for workers’ compensation benefits, but an administrative law judge and the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission said he wasn’t entitled to benefits. Miller was just as likely to suffer this particular injury walking around at work as he was at home, they said.
The Court of Appeals agreed but transferred the case to the Missouri Supreme Court due to the general interest and issues presented in the case.
“This is the perfect kind of case to go to the Supreme Court on this issue under the new [workers’ compensation] act. … It’s a good one to just have the Supreme Court give their opinion as to what it is that is compensable and what is not because that will provide a lot of guidance for employers and employees in the state of Missouri,” Sarah Kraft, a senior associate at Evans & Dixon in St. Louis, said Wednesday. Kraft and Robert E. Bidstrup represented the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission in this case.
Joseph A. Brannon, of Briscoe, Rodenbaugh & Brannon in New London, said he does not comment on active client matters.
Miller’s case probably would have come out the other way had he been injured before the 2005 workers’ compensation law took effect.
“In 2005 when the Legislature amended the workers’ compensation act, they created limitations on what would be considered a compensable workers’ compensation event,” Kraft said.
The new law states an injury “arising out of and in the course of the employment” is one that “does not come from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment.”
The new law abrogates three state Supreme Court decisions, from 1999 and 2002, that interpreted the meaning of “arising out of and in the course of the employment.” Miller’s case cannot be distinguished from the earlier three cases – especially Bennett v. Columbia Health Care and Rehabilitation, the 2002 decision. The claimant in that case was a nurse’s aide whose knee popped when she was walking around a patient’s bed.
“If you want a set of cases that made employers absolutely insane, it was those cases. They absolutely infuriated them,” Bidstrup said. These decisions, and others similar to them, led business groups to call for workers’ compensation reform. In 2005, the Republicans were able to overhaul the workers’ compensation law.
Since the Legislature said the injuries in Bennett and the other two cases would no longer be compensable, Miller’s injury isn’t compensable either, the court said. “I think that’s what we’ll see as a focus of the Supreme Court in terms of analyzing the law,” Kraft said.
The case is Miller v. Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission, ED91671, and the opinion may be found on the judiciary’s Web site, www.courts.mo.gov.