Wage Loss Denial Reversed

Wage Loss Denial Reversed

Posted: September, 1996

State, ex rel. McGonegle v. Indus. Comm. (8/7/96), 76 Ohio St.3d 272.

Issue: Does an employer’s decision to fire an injured worker break the causal connection between the wage loss and the injury resulting in denial of wage loss compensation?

Background: McGonegle was exposed to heated caustic soda solution used to clean component parts of printing presses and developed breathing problems, including severe coughing attacks, due to the exposure. On October 18, 1986, he went to a hospital emergency room because of the coughing. He had been scheduled to work that day.

The company, using its policy on tardiness and absenteeism, assigned him a “point” due to the absence. The employer then fired McGonegle for excessive tardiness and absenteeism. He received unemployment compensation on a finding that the employer discharged him without just cause.

In March 1988 he filed a workers’ compensation claim for industrial bronchitis and his claim was allowed. In 1989 he filed for wage loss. The company had McGonegle examined by Dr. D who reported that the exposure caused the industrial bronchitis but that McGonegle at the time of the examination (August 1, 1988) was not “suffering from any residual pulmonary deficit.” The doctor indicated that McGonegle could not return to his former employment. He said that McGonegle should not return as a “preventative measure” so as not to make the susceptibility worse or to cause redevelopment.

The Commission denied wage loss because the employer fired him and due to lack of supporting medical evidence since Dr. D said that McGonegle “no longer suffers from the condition.” The Court of Appeals ruled against his mandamus challenge, and McGonegle appealed.

Decision: Ohio Supreme Court reverses.

The Commission denied wage loss because no causal relationship existed since the employer fired McGonegle for absenteeism and the condition had resolved. The Court rules that these are invalid reasons to deny wage loss. Under State, ex rel. Watts v. Schottenstein Stores (1993), 68 Ohio St.3d 118, firing “is not a determinative factor to be considered in a wage loss claim.” Wage loss is not tied to the “continued possibility of future employment” at the job where the injury occurred. The medical evidence demonstrates McGonegle could not have returned to his former position, regardless of the firing.

The Court considers McGonegle’s medical condition and says it manifests itself “only when he is exposed to caustic soda.” The medical evidence shows he cannot return to his former work because of the unacceptable risk of exposure. The medical evidence on which the Industrial Commission relied reveals that his allowed condition “prohibits a return to his former position.”

Editor’s Comment: Will it be a decade from the time the motion for wage loss was filed in 1988 to the time he finally receives wage loss compensation?

Information courtesy of the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Bulletin. Subscribe to the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Bulletin to keep informed about the Ohio workers’ compensation system.