In this case, the employee was at work and slipped and fell while stepping from the employer’s parking lot to the sidewalk. The employee experienced pain in her right hand, the right side of her neck, and her buttock. The employee was taken off work for two months and returned to work with restrictions. After returning to work, the employee attended medical appointments or left early from work for reasons related to her work injury. For that time, the employee used compensatory time, vacation time, and sick leave.
The employee’s treating doctor suggested additional medical treatment that included nerve blocks, occupational therapy from which the employee received a significant amount of relief from the pain. The employee was also examined by the IME doctor who opined that the employee had a pre-existing cervical degenerative disc disease that was unrelated to the work injury and that there was no objective basis that indicates any current diagnosis or need for treatment.
The compensation judge found that the employee’s work injury aggravated her pre-existing condition and that all medical treatment was reasonable, necessary, and causally related to the work injury.
The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals took on two issues with this case and affirmed the decision of the compensation judge.
On the issue of causation, the Court of Appeals affirmed on the basis that the judge found the employee a credible witness and chose the employee’s treating doctors medical opinions over that of the IME doctor. They found that the judge’s decisions were supported by substantial evidence.
The second, and more important, issue was that the employee used vacation time and sick time to cover her wage loss for medical appointments and lost time related to the work injury. Citing a previous decision, the Court notes that workers’ compensation benefits are primary. The Court states that not allowing the employee to receive temporary partial disability benefits for vacation leave and sick time would be like “paying workers’ compensation benefits to themselves from the acquired vacation and sick leave.” According to the WCCA, the compensation judge was correct to award temporary partial disability benefits for the vacation and sick time that was used to cover lost time from work that was related to the work injury.