Fired worker still entitled to temporary disability benefits

A worker who was injured on the job and was later fired for cause is still entitled to disability benefits, despite his misconduct, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In 2013, Masterbrand Cabinets hired Douglas Waid as a production associate, a position that involved physical labor. During his time at Masterbrand, Waid was frequently “coached” on his workplace conduct regarding anger issues.

A year after his initial hiring, Waid slipped at work and injured his lower back, but initially said medical care would not be necessary. However, Waid’s pain got worse, so Masterbrand referred him to Dr. James Butler, who eventually returned Waid to “full duty.”

After working a full shift one day after his injury, Waid was unable to get out of bed. When he was able to return to work, Waid got into a verbal altercation with his supervisor regarding his pain and lack of work restrictions, threw his ice pack and cursed at the supervisor.

Waid was terminated shortly thereafter and had a follow-up appointment with Butler, who released Waid from treatment in September 2014, found maximum medical improvement and assigned a 3 percent whole-percent impairment rating.

After Waid filed a motion to compel an independent medical examination, Dr. Mike Chou found that Waid likely had an exacerbation of a pre-existing back condition and that 10 to 20 percent was attributable to the job injury. Further, Chou said Waid could return to sedentary work and that he would reach maximum medical improvement either when his pain resolved itself or after recovering from surgery to treat the pain.

A single hearing officer of the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Board found that Waid was entitled to an award for his temporary total disability, and the full board affirmed the decision when Masterbrand appealed.

Masterbrand then appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals, arguing that Waid was not entitled to TTD benefits under the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Act because he was fired for misconduct. The Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana filed an amicus brief in Masterbrand’s favor, arguing that “once the employee is released to even sedentary work … the employee is no longer entitled to benefits because the inability to work is no longer related to the work injury, rather it was caused by the employee’s resignation or violation of company policies.”

Conversely, the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association filed an amicus brief in favor of Waid, holding that Masterbrand’s position could set a bad precedent because “potentially any time an employee disagrees with his employer over temporary total disability … the employer could terminate him claiming employee insubordination.”

The Indiana Court of Appeals found in Waid’s favor Thursday, with Judge Michael Barnes writing that “the relevant inquiry is whether (Waid’s) inability to work, even for other employers, was related to his injury.”

“The Board here found that Waid’s inability to work was related to his injury,” Barnes wrote for the unanimous panel. “That decision rested on a determination of Waid’s credibility and weighing of the evidence. On appeal, we cannot reweigh the evidence or judge the credibility of the witnesses.”

The case is Masterbrand Cabinets v. Douglas Waid, 93A02-1609-EX-2228.

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