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New York's cap on workers comp awards applies to multiple injuries: Court

Posted On: May. 3, 2012 12:00 AM CST

ALBANY, N.Y.—A weekly cap on workers compensation benefit awards applies even when a worker suffers several different injuries, New York's highest court ruled Tuesday in a 5-2 decision.

The Court of Appeals opinion in Wayne Schmidt vs. Falls Dodge Inc. et al. says that Mr. Schmidt, a shop technician, repaired cars and suffered three separate injuries in 2005.

In one he slipped on ice, injuring his hip and back. Later he suffered a lower back sprain, and then reported hearing loss due to loud work noise.

A workers comp judge granted awards totaling $400 a week for the hip and back injuries, the maximum allowed at the time under New York workers comp law.

Judge's rulings

A workers comp judge separately ruled the claimant suffered a permanent partial disability for the hearing loss. That entitled him to a “schedule loss of use award,” of $400 a week for 32 weeks, the judge concluded.

The judge also found the schedule award to be payable in full even though the claimant was receiving $400 a week for his other claims.

A Workers' Compensation Board ruling affirmed the judge's ruling, finding that because a schedule award “is not allocable to any particular period,” it can't be deemed to overlap with a TTD award.

In 2009 an intermediate appeals court, agreed.

High court reverses rulings

But New York's high court reversed the decision Tuesday, finding that “a claimant entitled to a schedule award that is to be paid periodically must wait until his other disability payments have ceased, or have dipped below the cap, to be paid his schedule award.”

A contrary holding would contradict New York workers comp law and would allow someone with a back and hearing injury to receive more in benefits than a quadriplegic awarded $400 in permanent total disability benefits, the court said.

The court ordered the cased remitted to the Appellate Division for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

In a dissent, however, Judge Carmen Ciparick and Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said that New York's legislature intended that a schedule award and a TTD award cannot overlap.