Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation weighs in on injury case that could re-open settled claims

MOLegalFoundLGAn attorney argued before the Missouri Supreme Court on Sept. 2 that injured workers should be able to continue receiving temporary disability benefits even after they’ve healed as much as possible.

“The temporary and total disability statute—287.170—does not mention any requirement that benefits stop at maximum medical improvement,” said attorney Jonathan Sternberg. “Instead, it requires that they continue throughout the rehabilitative process.”

If the Missouri Supreme Court sides with Sternberg and his client, injured worker Carl Greer, it could reopen years of long-settled injury claims, potentially allowing other injured workers to go back on temporary disability and seek additional medical treatments. This would make it difficult for Missouri employers to ever find closure in injury cases.

Jonathan Sternberg, attorney for injured worker Carl Greer. Click to watch highlights from the hearing.

Jonathan Sternberg, attorney for injured worker Carl Greer. Click to watch highlights from the hearing.

That’s why the Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation filed an amicus brief on behalf of the business community, arguing that the Missouri Supreme Court should follow existing case law and not award additional periods of total disability payments.

In this case, Greer originally sought disability benefits from his employer, Sysco Food services, following a foot and ankle injury sustained in a 2006 forklift accident. He was awarded temporary total disability benefits during his medical treatment.

After his treatment concluded, Greer was awarded permanent partial disability payments.

However, three years later, Greer decided to undergo a surgery and sought additional temporary total disability payments as he healed from the procedure. The state’s Labor and Industrial Relations Commission awarded him the additional round of benefits.

John Allen, attorney for Sysco Food Services, argued that temporary disability benefits must end once the injured worker reaches “maximum medical improvement” according to established case law in Missouri.

John Allen, attorney for Sysco Food Services. Click to watch highlights from the hearing.

John Allen, attorney for Sysco Food Services. Click to watch highlights from the hearing.

“There’s no dispute that the phrase ‘maximum medical improvement’ does not appear in the workers’ compensation law. But the absence of that phrase from that statute does not require this case, this court to overturn years and years of precedent setting forth different standards with respect to when temporary disability ends and permanent disability begins,” Allen said.

Another matter in the case is whether Greer’s injuries should have resulted in him receiving permanent total disability payments, rather than the partial disability payments he was awarded. The Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation argues a partial disability determination is the correct ruling.

The Missouri Chamber Legal Foundation will continue to monitor this important case as the Missouri Supreme Court issues its decision later this year.

For more information about legal issues, contact Missouri Chamber General Counsel and Director of Legislative Affairs Brian Bunten at bbunten@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.

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