Printed from

Woman unemployed since 1994 denied disability pay

Posted On: Apr. 13, 2015 12:00 AM CST

An Ohio woman injured in a slip-and-fall accident at work three decades ago can’t receive workers compensation benefits for continuing injuries because she voluntarily left the workforce in 1994, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled.

Sophia Stevens worked as a nursing assistant for Fountain Park Nursing Home in Bryan, Ohio, and was injured in May 1979 when she fell at work, court records show. She has received workers comp over the years for numerous conditions related to her fall, including cervical and lumbar strain, phlebitis in her right arm and hand, dyspepsia, gastritis, esophagitis and closed fracture of her right middle finger.

Despite efforts by the Ohio Industrial Commission to provide rehabilitation services to Ms. Stevens in 1983, 1989 and 1991, she last worked as a sales associate at a department store for one month in 1994.

Ms. Stevens applied for permanent total disability benefits in October 2009, and her request was granted by a hearing officer with the Ohio Industrial Commission. However, records show that the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation asked the commission to reconsider the decision based on evidence that Ms. Stevens voluntarily abandoned the workforce when she left the department store job.

The Ohio Industrial Commission, in filings, concluded that its staff hearing officer did not address whether Ms. Stevens abandoned the workforce, and therefore vacated the hearing officer’s order. The commission later voted 2-1 to deny disability benefits for Ms. Stevens, based partly on reports from doctors who believed Ms. Stevens, who was then 67, retained the ability to do unskilled sedentary work.

The commission also noted that Ms. Stevens’ total employment history amounted to less than one year of work, and concluded that her unemployment was a “lifestyle choice”, filings show.

Ms. Stevens appealed to the Ohio Court of Appeals, which found that the industrial commission denied Ms. Stevens due process because one of three voting commissioners did not attend a hearing in Ms. Stevens’ case. Both the industrial commission and Ms. Stevens appealed the appellate court’s order for the industrial commission to conduct a new hearing.

The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Friday that the industrial commission properly denied PTD benefits to Ms. Stevens.

“Here, the commission relied on the medical evidence that Stevens had both the physical and intellectual capacity to work, based on the medical reports,” the ruling reads.

The high court also found that Ms. Stevens was not denied due process because Ohio case law allows industrial commissioners not to attend hearings when they’ve conducted a “meaningful review” of evidence in cases.