Walking Dog, not Seeking Job, Halt PPD Benefits for Nurse with Injured Back

                               

Sheridan, WY (WorkersCompensation.com) -- In Wyoming, an employee may obtain partial permanent disability benefits only if she shows she actively sought suitable work, considering her health, education, training, and experience.   

The Wyoming Supreme Court found that a former registered nurse in McBride v. State of Wyoming, No. S-21-0296 (Wyo. 08/19/22) failed to do that. The one-time nurse hurt her back and hip while moving a patient from his bed to a wheelchair. She ultimately sought permanent partial disability benefits because of the injury. 

In asserting that she was entitled to those benefits, the worker pointed to a doctor’s conclusion that if she continued working as a nurse, the physical demands of the position would cause her back injury to flare and increase her pain.  

The Office of Administrative Hearings awarded the nurse PPD benefits, but a state district court reversed that decision. The court concluded that the nurse failed to show she was actively seeking work.  

Addressing the nurse’s challenge of the district court’s decision, the Wyoming Supreme Court explained that under state law, PPD benefits are only available if an employee continues trying to find employment that is suitable, given her health restrictions.  

The court identified several signs that the nurse failed to establish that she met that requirement: 

  • An investigative report revealed that the nurse was seen getting into and out of her car, walking her dog on a leash, and driving, with no visible difficulty. 

  • A doctor reported that the nurse was able to get onto the exam table and move about the exam room without pain. 

  • The nurse acknowledged that while she had contacted several prospective employers, she was not contacting five per week, as required by the statute. 

  • All the doctors who evaluated the nurse placed work restrictions on her, such as a restriction of lifting no more than 20 lbs. However, none said she could not work. 

The court added that while one of the treating physicians said the nurse could not return to work as a nurse because the demands of such a job "would flare her back pain and lead to more problems," he offered that she "could potentially find some "office job or something else that maybe wasn't as specifically demanding." While the doctor cautioned that it might be difficult for her to land a job given her age and lack of experience, he also opined that there were jobs that she could perform despite her limitations.  

This was not a case, the court observed, where the individual was in such debilitating physical condition that she could not reasonably return to work without diminishing her physical state or causing additional injury.   

And there were the nurse’s own words to consider. The court pointed out that the employee did not testify that she could not work. “Instead, she conceded that she was not looking for work.”   

Holding that the nurse did not make sufficient efforts to seek employment, the court affirmed the district court’s ruling. 

Forms, email updates, legal, regulatory, and compliance information from Wyoming and 52 other jurisdictions across the U.S. can be found on WorkCompResearch.com.


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