Five Things You Need to Know: 3/22, Wednesday Edition


1) Disability Denial Decision Upheld for Almost 4-Decade WV Power Co. Employee

Former Charleston, WV Appalachian Power Co. employee Thomas L. Cooper lost his workers' compensation appeal that denied him in consideration of permanent total disability, according to a state Supreme Court decision on March 10. "On Oct. 5, 2015, the Workers' Compensation Board of Review reversed a March 2015 order of the Workers' Compensation Office of Judges," writes Carrie Salls of the West Virginia Record. "The Office of Judges’ ruling had sent Thomas L. Cooper’s claim back to self-insured Appalachian Power for further evaluation of Cooper’s medical condition." The Board of Review decided that Cooper didn't meet the 50 percent threshold of whole body medical impairment to meet permanent disability consideration. Cooper was an employee at the company for 38 years, and hurt himself on the job several times (including multiple finger amputation in 2008), according to the recent appeals decision. He didn't go back to work, and received a 43 percent permanent partial disability benefits for his fingers, and another 10 percent for his psychiatric issues, according to an appeals decision in 2012. "Since his application for permanent total disability stated that he had previously been granted a total of 63 percent partial disability benefits, Cooper claimed that he met the legal criteria for permanent total disability status," writes Salls. A doctor examined Cooper and concluded he had a 43 percent whole body impairment, and a 5 percent whole body medical impairment connected to a spine injury. "The doctor concluded that the lumbar spine issues resulted from pre-existing conditions," according to the article. "Another medical evaluation was ordered after the Office of Judges ruled that the doctor’s report was 'flawed and not credible,'" writes Salls. The power company appealed the order, and was ruled in favor by the board.


2) Three Ammonia Leaks at WA Beverage Co. Lead to Large Fines

Spokane, WA-based beverage manufacturer Johanna Beverage Co. is in some trouble with the Washington state Department of Labor & Industries, to the tune of $154,000 in penalties after failure to protect workers from ammonia leaks, writes Joyce Famakinwa of the Business Wire. Three leaks were discovered in 2016, according to a press release published by the Department. "In one incident that took place in August, 'panicked employees ran downwind of the leak into the vapor cloud. Eight employees were exposed; one was sickened and taken to the hospital,'" according to the statement. Two willful violations and two serious violations were cited to the beverage company. "The citations included failing to develop a written emergency response plan for what to do in the event of an ammonia leak, not providing employees with emergency response training, not providing an ammonia alarm system and not ensuring that voluntary use of respirators was done safely," writes Famakinwa.


3) Martinsburg, WV Sheriff Allegedly Collects Checks That Weren't His

Terrance Sanford Shetley, a 50-year-old Berkeley County Sheriff's Department deputy, was charged this week for participating in workers' compensation schemes, according to court records referenced in a Herald-Mail Media article. Shetley received workers' compensation benefits after an on-the-job injury in 2015, and allegedly cashed county paychecks that were sent to him in error. Shetley, who is still receiving workers' compensation benefits (according to the County Sheriff), has been working for the county for approximately 16 years. According to court records, "Sheriff's department Lt. B.F. Hall said in a complaint that Shetley was not entitled to 11 county paychecks, which he mistakenly received, starting June 30, 2015, and continuing through Dec. 30, 2015." The paychecks amounted to $18,799 in gross pay, and were cashed by the sheriff's department.


4) MT Bill Looks to Hold Employees Accountable for Job-Related Medical Conditions

Senate Bill 116 in Helena, MT could hold employees liable if they fail to disclose a medical condition pertinent to a job in any questionnaires during pre-employment, according to an article written by Cole Grant of UM Legislative Service (featured in the Great Falls Tribune). The bill passed in the Senate last month, and the House Business and Labor Committee hadn't taken action on the bill as of Tuesday evening. "The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, said the bill is about honesty and transparency," according to the article. Al Smith of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association disagrees. “This bill is to benefit employers, doesn’t benefit workers, it’s not about safety, it’s going to lead to more litigation,” Smith said at a hearing for the bill Tuesday.


5) Canadian Workers' Compensation Board to Potentially Develop Policies on Pot

Marijuana was a hot topic at the Saskatchewan Workers' Compensation Board meeting this week. "A spokesman for a Saskatchewan agency that provides insurance and compensation for workers and employers says businesses should have policies in place before Canada legalizes marijuana," according to a Canadian Press article (featured in the Chronicle Herald). "He says businesses should develop ways to test workers for marijuana; penalties for employees who use marijuana at or before work, or perhaps consider allowing the drug at work." In early March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Canadian government plans to introduce legislation for marijuana this summer, according to the article. Also note: He said current laws are being enforced.

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