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Injured worker not entitled to mileage reimbursement for treatment

Posted On: Feb. 26, 2015 12:00 AM CST

Injured worker not entitled to mileage reimbursement for treatment

An Arizona worker who failed to prove he had “no choice but to travel” to receive medical treatment is not entitled to a mileage reimbursement, an Arizona appellate court ruled Tuesday.

Rick A. Bunch injured his neck and back in August 2007 while performing maintenance on a wastewater treatment plant for the City of Flagstaff, Arizona, according to court records.

Mr. Bunch received workers compensation benefits, and underwent “extensive conservative treatment” in Flagstaff. His claim was eventually closed with a 5% unscheduled permanent partial impairment and no loss of earning capacity, according to records. And in July 2010 he received a supportive care award, subject to annual review, allowing him four office visits, 10 physical therapy sessions, one diagnostic study, medications and up to two radiofrequency denervations per year.

After his claim closed, Mr. Bunch said he continued having neck pain that was a “7 or 8 on a scale of 10,” records show. So he obtained a referral to see a neurosurgeon in Phoenix, and a petition to reopen his claim was granted, according to records.

Mr. Bunch underwent surgery and found that his neck pain lessened to “1 on a scale of 10,” records show.

He then requested reimbursement for travel expenses he incurred going from Flagstaff to Phoenix for medical treatment, according to records. An administrative law judge entered an award granting a mileage reimbursement, but the City of Flagstaff appealed.

On Tuesday, the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed the mileage reimbursement awarded by the administrative law judge, ruling that “the evidence of record did not establish that the claimant had no choice but to travel to Phoenix to obtain medical treatment.”

Mr. Bunch didn't live “in a rural area with no access to medical care without a long commute,” according to the ruling. “In fact, the evidence of record established that there were a number of medical specialists available to the claimant in the Flagstaff area.”

The ruling states that, because Mr. Bunch had had severe ongoing pain despite receiving treatment in Flagstaff, “We agree with the (administrative law judge) that it was reasonable for the claimant to seek medical care from another physician. However, because claimant failed to show that he couldn't get such treatment in Flagstaff, it was error to award him reimbursement for his travel expenses to Phoenix.”