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Not Making Argument Sooner Curbs Ariz. Trader Joe’s Worker’s Case

26 May, 2023 Frank Ferreri

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Phoenix, AZ (WorkersCompensation.com) -- While not flashy or exciting, cases about procedural requirements can help show the way to a case that makes its way through court.

Such was the case in Knutson v. Industrial Commission of Arizona, No. 1 CA-IC-22-0010 (Ariz. Ct. App. 04/11/23), where bringing up an argument too late in the game sunk a worker's claims.

While loading groceries into a customer's SUV, a worker for Trader Joe's experienced a head injury when the rear hatch door came down on her head. Although she developed a headache, she continued working until, shortly thereafter, she dropped a case of bottled water and Trader Joe's sent her to urgent care.

At urgent care, the worker was diagnosed with a concussion and a head contusion. In the following weeks, the worker developed:

--> Speech problems
--> Vision problems
--> Light sensitivity
--> Other problems symptomatic of a possible neurological impairment

A medical examination determined that the worker had experienced a significant brain injury. The doctor who performed the independent medical examination determined that the worker had reached maximum medical improvement and did not have a permanent impairment.

At that point, the insurer issued a notice closing the worker's claim. The worker requested a hearing.

At the hearing, an administrative law judge found the opinions of Trader Joe's specialists "more probably correct and well founded" than the worker's experts. As a result, the ALJ concluded that the worker did not experience a psychological or neuropsychological injury as a result of the industrial incident and that the worker was medically stationary.

The worker requested administrative review, which was denied, and so she appealed to court, arguing that the ALJ failed to make adequate findings of fact.

Arizona cases have held that an ALJ's lack of findings does not necessarily invalidate an award as long as the court can determine the factual basis for the ALJ's conclusions.

Workers' Comp 101: In Post v. Industrial Commission of Arizona, 770 P.2d 308 (Ariz. 1989), the Arizona Supreme Court didn't have anything from the ALJ to determine whether his ruling was correct. "To prevent appellate courts from having to assume a factfinder role, an administrative law judge must find on all the case's material issues," the court wrote. "Here, we have no way of evaluating the basis of the judge's award and consequently cannot determine the factual support for, or the legal propriety of, his conclusion." Thus, the court set aside the ALJ's award.

In the worker's case, it ultimately did not matter.

Why?

"Because [the worker's] argument was first raised in her reply brief, she has waived it on appeal."

As a result, the court upheld the ALJ's decision in favor of Trader Joe's and the insurer.


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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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