Under Ohio worker’s compensation law, permanent total disability may be awarded to an injured worker who is unable to return to any type of sustained remunerative employment due to the allowed conditions in the claim. Permanent partial disability benefits are awarded to injured workers to compensate for their lost earning capacity due to the allowed conditions in the claim, i.e. an award for whole person impairment based on the allowed conditions.
Recently, in State ex rel. Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services, Inc., v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-8024, the Supreme Court held that the Industrial Commission does not have authority to award an injured worker permanent partial disability when the injured worker has already been found permanently totally disabled in the same claim. Previously, injured workers were applying for (and were awarded) permanent partial disability benefits in claims where they had already been granted permanent total disability if the permanent total disability was based solely on the physical allowances, or vice versa. Injured workers and their counsel argued that only the physical allowances subject to the permanent total disability award were barred from future permanent partial awards, but the psychological allowances could still receive a permanent partial award in that same claim (or vice versa). This Supreme Court case has ended that trend.
In this case, the injured worker, Ms. Redwine, was injured at work and ultimately applied for and was granted permanent and total disability due to her allowed psychological allowances. After her award of permanent total disability benefits, she submitted an application for permanent partial disability in the same claim, but only for her allowed physical conditions. A staff hearing officer determined that Ms. Redwine could receive both permanent partial benefits and permanent total benfits in the same claim so long as the physical conditions did not serve as the basis for the permanent total disability award. The employer then filed a writ of mandamus in Tenth District Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals decided in favor of the injured worker. The employer then appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court interpreted permanent partial disability benefits as means to compensate employees who are still able to work. Whereas permanent total disability benefits are a means to compensate injured workers for permanent impairment of earning capacity. The Supreme Court noted that Ms. Redwine’s case was distinguishable from other previous Supreme Court cases where an injured worker received both permanent partial and permanent total disability benefits at the same time, but in different claims. The Supreme Court also noted that the Ohio Legislature allowed for the payment of loss of use awards and permanent total disability awards at the same time. However, the Legislature had not specifically allowed for the payment of permanent partial awards and permanent total disability in the same claim, at the same time. Therefore, the Court determined that the Commission was without authority to award Ms. Redwine permanent partial benefits when she was already receiving permanent total benefits in the same claim.
This is a significant decision for Ohio employers in that it conclusively determines that claimants cannot be awarded permanent partial benefits in the same claim when they are already on permanent total disability. After this decision, employers should re-evaluate any previous claims where an injured worker was awarded permanent partial disability while already on permanent total disability in the same claim. If the commission (or the Bureau) awarded permanent partial disability benefits to injured workers after being placed on permanent total disability those employers should consider filing C-86 motions for continuing jurisdiction based on a mistake of law and request an overpayment.