Alabama Judges Must Consider Issue of Vocational Loss for Non-Scheduled Injuries When Employee is Earning Less
The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently reversed an order based on a trial court's decision which only found the employee suffered a physical impairment to her shoulder and did not explicitly address loss of earning ability. In Billingsley v. City of Gadsden, the employee made a claim for workers' compensation benefits for an injury to her shoulder, and other parts of her body, following an on-the-job automobile accident. Notably, the employee stopped working for the employer a few months after her accident, but prior to reaching maximum medical improvement. As a result, upon reaching MMI, she was not earning the same or greater wages than that which she was earning prior to the accident. The court determined that the employee's shoulder injury was compensable, but found that the other conditions had either resolved or were preexisting. In its order, the trial court determined the employee had sustained a 25% physical impairment to her shoulder, and awarded permanent partial disability benefits based on this finding of physical impairment. The decision was appealed. The Appeals Court agreed that the body parts other than the shoulder were not compensable, but it disagreed with the trial court's award of benefits based on a finding of physical disability, alone. The Appeals Court noted that an injury to an employee's shoulder is not included in the Act's schedule, and therefore, an award for a shoulder injury can only be upheld when the court makes an express finding regarding an employee's loss of ability to earn. Although physical disability may be a preliminary foundation for finding loss of earning ability, the court must also explicitly address loss of earning ability when the employee has not returned to work earning the same or greater wages. By failing to address the employee's loss of earning ability, the trial court's decision provided no basis for an award. The case was therefore remanded with instructions for the trial court to determine the extent, if any, to which the employee's injury affected her ability to earn income, and to award the employee benefits accordingly. -------------------------------- About the Author This post was written by Trey Cotney, Esq., of Fish Nelson & Holden LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers and insurance carriers in workers' compensation matters. Fish Nelson is a member of the National Workers' Compensation Network (NWCDN). If you have any questions about this article or Alabama workers' compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or any firm member at 205-332-3430.