In a recent case, the Court of Appeals instructed the Workers' Compensation Board that it has to provide more guidance on what it actually means for an injured worker to have a permanent, "significant" loss of use of an injured body part when deciding whether a worker is entitled to a certain type of permanent partial disability benefit when it reviews a Notice of Closure.
If an injured worker is permanently limited in their ability to do certain work activities, the injured worker is entitled to a permanent partial disability benefit, which is based in part on the findings in a closing examination when the worker is medically stationary. One part of the evaluation for permanent partial disability involves a "chronic condition" rating. This is an allocation of disability available if a treating doctor finds the injured worker is "significantly limited" in their use of the injured body part. The problem is that there is no clear definition of what is meant by "significant." It has been traditionally a matter of medical opinion, and often times, there is no real explanation as to what makes a limitation significant, or what it really means.
In this case, the injured worker obtained medical opinions that considered the dictionary definition of "significant" in appealing a Notice of Closure. The Appellate Review Unit, which is the first agency to consider an appeal of a Notice of Closure, found there was insufficient evidence of a significant limitation, and the Workers' Compensation Board, which eventually reviews the Appellate Review Unit's decision, agreed.
The injured worker then took the case up to the Court of Appeals. In an interesting decision, the Court of Appeals found that the Board needed to further define what was meant by "significant," and apply that definition in determining whether someone suffered such a limitation. In other words, the Board could not just determine what the facts were, and then make a conclusion without explaining how it got to its conclusion.
This is a significant case because it just might result in some amendments to the rules, and really give injured workers and their attorneys more guidance on what it means to be entitled to a chronic condition impairment.
If you have an open workers' compensation claim, or a recently closed claim, call us with questions. We have offices in Beaverton and Astoria, and can help you decide how to respond to your claim closure.