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NCCI: Top 10 Appellate Decisions During the 100 Years of NCCI

27 Nov, 2023 NCCI

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Heartiest congratulations to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) as it celebrates 100 years of service to the workers’ compensation system. "Our" system has seen substantial changes over the years and NCCI has deftly adapted along with it. Recently, as I contemplated NCCI’s strength and resiliency, I thought it would be interesting to highlight and discuss some of the truly significant workers' compensation appellate decisions that have been handed down since 1923. The winnowing was not easy.

By way of context, in my 37 years of working on "the Treatise" [Larson’s Workers' Compensation Law, 17 vols., Matthew-Bender/LexisNexis (Larson)], I have read—sometimes only skimmed—more than 60,000 appellate decisions from across the nation. Reporting here on just a handful inevitably results in omitting some important decisions. And your list would assuredly be different from mine. Nevertheless, with some bit of presumptuousness, and with a parenthetical note included in the following paragraph, I offer below my assessment of 10 significantly important decisions over the life of NCCI.

May I initially allow that one of the most significant decisions in our field, this one by the US Supreme Court in New York C. R. Co. v. White (1917), is excluded from my list because it predates NCCI’s founding by six years. You likely know the important backdrop of the White decision. In 1910, the first New York Act was passed, with compulsory coverage for certain "hazardous employments." However, that Act was declared unconstitutional in 1911 by the state’s Court of Appeals in Ives v. South Buffalo Ry. Co.

Ives, it should be recalled, was handed down on March 24, 1911, one day before the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village, which resulted in the deaths of 146 workers. The Ives court found that the imposition of liability without fault upon an employer was a taking of property without due process of law under the state and federal constitutions. After Ives, the State of New York amended its constitution to require that most employers provide "workmen's [sic] compensation" to employees who were disabled or killed while in the scope of employment. In White, the US Supreme Court upheld New York’s constitutional amendment. With such a pronouncement from our nation’s highest court, the stage was set for the expansion of a state-by-state system of providing indemnity benefits and medical expenses for thousands of injured employees.

Now, to my list.

Odd-Lot Principle

Lee v. Minneapolis St. Ry. (1950)

As observed in Larson, § 83.02, "total disability" in workers' compensation law is not to be interpreted literally as utter and abject helplessness. Evidence that a claimant has been able to earn occasional wages or perform certain kinds of gainful work does not necessarily rule out a finding of total disability nor require that it be reduced to partial disability. The task is to phrase a rule delimiting the amount and character of work a person can be able to do without forfeiting his or her totally disabled status. ..view more

Mental-Mental Injuries/Conditions

Bailey v. American Gen. Ins. Co. (1955)

For decades after the passage of the first state workers' compensation acts, few seriously suggested that an employee should be able to recover benefits resulting from a mental injury caused by a work-related mental stimulus. Some early decisions awarded benefits where there had been a distinct physical accident or trauma that subsequently manifested itself into a mental condition [see Larson, § 56.03]. These were explained by the doctrine that an employer is generally responsible for all "sequelae" that flow from the primary work-related injury. ..view more

Substantially Certain Rule as a Departure From "Pure Intent"

Mandolidis v. Elkins Industries, Inc. (1978)

In virtually all American jurisdictions, an intentional assault by the employer upon the employee, when the employer acts in person as distinguished from constructively through an agent, will ground a common-law action for damages. The same holds true if the assailant is the alter ego of the employer. Several legal theories have been advanced to support this exception to exclusivity. The best is that the employer will not be heard to allege that the injury was "accidental," and, therefore, was under the exclusive remedy provision of the workers’ compensation act when the employer intentionally committed the assault. ..view more

Injury vs. Occupational Disease

Booker v. Duke Medical Center (1979)

At one time in many states, the designation of an employee’s condition as an occupational disease, instead of an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of the employment, was crucial. The original workers’ compensation acts provided no coverage at all for occupational diseases. Now, of course, every American jurisdiction provides some level of compensation for occupational diseases. Still, some distinctions between occupational injuries and occupational diseases are important. Moreover, some fact patterns fall between the two categorizations. ..view more

Deceit by the Employer

Johns-Manville Products Corporation v. Contra Costa Superior Court (Rudkin) (1980)

Generally, cases involving allegations of deceit, fraud, and false representation on the part of the employer can best be sorted out by distinguishing those in which the deceit precedes and helps produce the injury, and those in which the deceit follows the injury and produces a second injury or loss [see Larson, § 104.03]. In the first category, a tort action has usually been found barred, since the deceit, so to speak, merges into the injury for which a compensation remedy is provided. If, however, after the basic compensable injury or disease has occurred, the employer fraudulently deceives the employee as to the existence of this condition, a separate action in deceit may lie, unaffected by the exclusive remedy clause. The leading case for this point is the decision of the California Supreme Court in Johns-Manville Products Corporation v. Contra Costa Superior Court (Rudkin). ..view more

Actions by Spouses or Dependents

Snyder v. Michael's Stores, Inc. (1997)

Under the most common type of exclusive remedy clause in a state workers' compensation act, suits by husbands for loss of the wife’s services and consortium, by wives for loss of the husband's services and consortium, by parents for loss of minor children’s services, by dependent children, and by next of kin under wrongful death statutes are all barred following an employee's work-related injury. These claims are deemed to be derivative of the employee’s injury and untenable [see Larson, 101.02]. Where the claim is not derivative, but due to an alleged direct to the family member, the result is often different. ..view more

Employee or Self-Employed Contractor?

Re/Max of New Jersey, Inc. v. Wausau Insurance Cos. (2000)

It is almost always said, both in the common law of master and servant and in workers' compensation law, that the fundamental test of employment relation is the right of the employer to control the details of the work, and that all other tests are subordinate and secondary. The rule is often best put negatively: An owner or general contractor, who wants to get work done without becoming an employer, is entitled to as much control of the details of the work as is necessary to ensure that it gets the end result from the contractor for which it has bargained. The line, however, may be quite difficult to draw in the case of skilled or experienced workers, e.g., real estate salespersons, because the same skills and experience allow performance of the job without supervision or interference. ..view more

Compensation for Undocumented Workers

Correa v. Waymouth Farms, Inc. (2003)

During the past several decades, we’ve seen a number of difficult issues arise regarding workplace injuries (or diseases) sustained by undocumented workers . In one important decision, Correa v. Waymouth Farms, Inc., Correa sustained a work-related injury, was paid medical benefits and other workers’ compensation benefits, and returned to light duty work for the employer. Nearly a year after the injury, the employer notified Correa that it had received information that Correa did not have a valid alien registration number, that the Social Security number he had provided did not correspond to his identity, and that there was no valid alien registration number or Social Security number in Correa's name. He was given 48 hours to provide adequate documentation and was fired when he could not do so. ..view more

Reimbursing Employee for Medical Marijuana

Vialpando v. Ben’s Automotive Servs. (2014)

The use of medical marijuana to treat disease and alleviate pain has grown significantly since the use of the substance, at least within limited medical parameters, has been legislatively authorized in a number of states. ..view more

Short-Lived Oklahoma Opt-Out Law

Vasquez v. Dillard's, Inc. (2016)

Much ink has been spilled regarding Oklahoma's unsuccessful attempt to emulate the workers’ compensation system utilized by her giant neighbor to the south. In Texas, the employer need not provide coverage to its employees at all and, to the extent that it desires its employees to be covered by the state’s Act, it must affirmatively elect such coverage [see Larson, § 102.01]. ..view more

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas A. Robinson, J.D., M.Div., is the author of more than 1,400 short pieces on workers compensation and employment law. His annual “Bizarre Comp Cases” article published each January on his blog site, www.workcompwriter.com, has been featured on National Public Radio. Robinson has lectured widely on workers compensation issues.

Copyright © 2023 Thomas A. Robinson, all rights reserved.

This article is provided solely as a reference tool to be used for informational purposes only. The information in this article shall not be construed or interpreted as providing legal or any other advice. Use of this article for any purpose other than as set forth herein is strictly prohibited. The views and opinions expressed in this article by authors from outside of NCCI are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of NCCI.


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