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The Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission misapplied state workers compensation law when it stacked disability ratings and ordered the Missouri Second Injury Fund to pay benefits in four separate comp cases, the state Supreme Court said in an en banc decision Tuesday.
Missouri’s Second Injury Fund pays claims when a work-related injury combines with a worker's prior disability to create an increased disability, according to the fund's website.
Though the high court decision unanimously affirmed benefit awards in three of the four cases, it said Tuesday that each claimant's prior injuries must meet a minimum permanent disability rating threshold to qualify for Second Injury Fund benefits.
Missouri workers comp law requires the Second Injury Fund to pay benefits if a claimant suffers a pre-existing whole-body disability that would receive at least 50 weeks of disability compensation, or if he or she suffers a pre-existing 15% permanent partial disability rating for a major extremity. In the four cases decided this week, the labor commission had combined disability ratings for various injuries and illnesses suffered by the claimants in order to meet the Second Injury Fund threshold.
The Supreme Court found that the labor commission incorrectly combined disability ratings when awarding Second Injury benefits to claimants.
“The statutory thresholds serve to make clear which pre-existing conditions are considered sufficiently serious to trigger the fund’s liability … Accordingly, the minimum thresholds exclude (moderate) injuries from triggering liability. Combining injuries to meet statutory thresholds not only would allow (moderate) injuries to trigger the fund’s liability but also would encourage it,” the ruling reads.
Three of the four claimants were found to have pre-existing injuries that would have individually qualified for Second Injury Fund benefits.