Supreme Court ruling in workers’ comp case a major victory for fire fighters, all Missouri workers

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IAFF intervened with a ‘friend of the court’ brief

By TIM ROWDEN
Editor-in-Chief

THE MISSOURI SUPREME COURT building in Jefferson City, Mo.

Jefferson City – Fire fighters won a major victory for all workers before the Missouri Supreme Court last month.

The decision stems from a workers’ compensation decision by the Missouri Court of Appeals in the case of Jeannie E. Harper v. Springfield Rehab and Health Care Center/NHC Health, which, although ruling in the employee’s favor found that to qualify for workers’ compensation, held that a worker must exhibit visible symptoms of an injury at the time of the incident.

The employer and insurance carrier appealed the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), realizing the threat a negative Supreme Court ruling posed, intervened in an amicus, or “friend of the court” brief.

“This decision threatened fire fighters’ ability to obtain workers’ compensation in Missouri because several of the types of injuries that fire fighters experience on the job, including internal injuries and injuries masked by adrenaline, do not manifest observable symptoms until hours or even days after the injury occurred,” IAFF General President Edward A. Kelly said in a letter to members.

IAFF STEPS UP
IAFF 2nd District Vice President Mark Woolbright called on IAFF to challenge the restrictive standard.

The IAFF’s legal counsel worked with the IAFF’s chief medical officer and science and research staff to craft a friend-of-the-court brief, showing why the decision was harmful to fire fighters and would jeopardize their right to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.

On Nov. 21, the Supreme Court rejected the employer’s and the insurance carrier’s arguments. Importantly for fire fighters, the Court ruled, as the IAFF requested, that testimony from a doctor after the fact that an on-the-job injury caused symptoms is credible evidence that an injury meets the criteria for workers’ compensation coverage in Missouri.

The win ensures fire fighters and other workers can continue to obtain workers’ compensation for on-the-job injuries that do not immediately manifest symptoms, provided they have doctors who testify that current symptoms were suffered on the job.

“This is a significant victory for Missouri fire fighters, as it allows doctors to provide credible evidence of whether an injury was caused on the job, rejecting efforts to narrow the scope of obtaining workers’ compensation only to those situations when symptoms are observable to a third party at the time of injury,” Kelly said.

Missouri workers’ compensation attorney John Boyd, who filed the amicus brief on behalf of IAFF said: “This decision is a victory for the injured worker. A big thanks for everything that the IAFF did in helping brief the court on the importance of this issue and the special harm it would have inflicted upon Missouri’s fire fighting community, had the lower courts been reversed.”


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