Change of Occupation Award Applies to All Dust-Related Occupational Disease Claims
State ex rel. Middlesworth v. Regal Ware Inc. (9/26/01), 93 Ohio St.3d 214.
Issue: Is an injured worker who suffers from a dust-induced occupational disease eligible for a change of occupation award?
Background: Middlesworth’s claim was allowed for interstitial pulmonary fibrosis with bilateral apical lung disease. She applied for permanent total compensation. The Industrial Commission doctor found no evidence to support the claim of interstitial pulmonary fibrosis with bilateral apical lung disease. He found no impairment. Permanent total compensation was denied.
Middlesworth then filed for change of occupation benefits under R.C. §4123.57(D).
The District Hearing Officer denied the motion because Middlesworth did not suffer from asbestosis, silicosis or coal minor’s pneumoconiosis. On appeal, the Staff Hearing Officer added that the Industrial Commission had found Middlesworth not permanent total on the basis of Industrial Commission doctor’s opinion that Middlesworth could return to her former position of employment. Middlesworth had not filed any more recent medical evidence to support a medical change in her condition which would indicate that she could not return to work at her former position of employment.
Middlesworth then filed another change of occupation motion attaching a high-resolution CAT scan. The District Hearing Officer declared the motion res judicata and the Staff Hearing Officer affirmed.
Middlesworth filed a mandamus challenge, claiming that the Industrial Commission had abused its discretion in both denying permanent total compensation and change of occupation. The Court of Appeals granted both writs.
Decision: Supreme Court affirms in part and reverses in part (5-2).
On the permanent total application, the Court of Appeals found that the Industrial Commission doctor refused to accept the allowed conditions. The Supreme Court disagrees. The Industrial Commission doctor knew that the interstitial lung disease was at issue. However, he found that the condition no longer existed.
The Court says this is not a situation where the doctor acknowledges the condition’s existence but refuses to accept the Industrial Commission’s determination of causal relationship. The Industrial Commission did not abuse its discretion in relying on the doctor’s report to deny permanent total compensation.
On the request for change of occupation benefits, the District Hearing Officer denied the award based on R.C. 4123.57(D)’s limitation of the award to claimants with silicosis, asbestosis or coal miner’s pneumoconiosis. Reading that provision together with R.C. 4123.68, the Court finds that eligibility for change of occupation benefits extends to all dust-induced occupational diseases.
The Court returns the case to the Industrial Commission to decide Middlesworth’s eligibility for the change of occupation award.