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An Ohio worker who quit his job on his first day of light-duty work is entitled to workers compensation benefits but not temporary total disability benefits, a divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled.
Brian J. Hildebrand Jr. worked for Toledo, Ohio-based Wingate Transport Inc. as a truck mechanic when he was injured on June 3, 2009, while replacing a grease seal on a truck, according to court records.
He reported the injury to his supervisor and was diagnosed five days later with a left sacroiliac joint sprain/strain. He returned to work six days later with a note from his physician stating that he could perform light-duty work, records show.
Over the phone, company owner Jeffrey Wingate confirmed that Mr. Hildebrand could return to light-duty work and asked him to return his Jeep that Mr. Hildebrand had borrowed for six months after his own car was totaled in an accident, records show. Mr. Wingate said the request caused Mr. Hildebrand to become agitated and ask if he were being fired. Mr. Wingate clarified that he was not being fired, but that he did need to stop using the Jeep, according to records.
Records show that Mr. Hildebrand became upset and began loading tools and equipment into a pickup truck. Upon returning to the worksite, Mr. Wingate asked Mr. Hildebrand to stop, and ended up calling the police when he refused. Mr. Hildebrand eventually cooperated with police officers and left the premises, ending his employment, according to records.
Mr. Hildebrand filed a report of his injury with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation on June 19, 2009, records show. Wingate Transport objected to his claim for workers compensation benefits because Mr. Hildebrand had a history of lower back problems, but a hearing officer allowed the claim on Sept. 2, 2009, for a left sacroiliac sprain/strain.
Mr. Hildebrand’s request for TTD benefits, however, was denied on the basis that he voluntarily quit his job and had not reentered the workforce, according to records.
The Industrial Commission of Ohio refused his appeal and denied his request for reconsideration, leading him to appeal to the state’s 10th District Court of Appeals, records show. His request was again denied.
On Jan. 22, in a 6-1 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s decision. The high court found that the commission did not abuse its discretion in deciding that Mr. Hildebrand voluntarily quit his job for reasons unrelated to his industrial injury and, therefore, he’s barred from receiving TTD benefits.
“This disagreement happened to occur shortly after (Mr. Hildebrand) reported to work with a note from his doctor restricting him to modified duty,” according to the majority opinion. “His departure was not causally related to the industrial injury. … Temporary-total-disability compensation is intended to compensate an injured worker who is temporarily unable to return to the duties of his or her former position of employment as a result of a workplace injury.”
According to the dissent, the appeal should have been granted as it would be “nonsensical” to characterize the June 9, 2009, exchange between Mr. Hildebrand and Mr. Wingate “as anything short of a termination.”
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