Maxfield v. Stremel Manufacturing

Maxfield v. Stremel Manufacturing, No. WC19-6282 (W.C.C.A. December 6, 2019)

The employee sustained a low back injury in 1991 related to his work as an iron worker. His claim was admitted with permanent and other benefits paid. The employee was assigned permanent restrictions and thus unable to return to work with the date of injury employer, so he underwent retraining as a paralegal in 1995. Thereafter, he worked full time until December of 2014 in a repair shop before he was laid off, but then called back to part time work until August of 2015.

This claim previously went to hearing in 2016 on the employee’s claim for temporary partial disability, additional permanent partial disability, permanent total disability benefits after August of 2015, ongoing rehabilitation benefits, and payment of rehabilitation bills.  In a Findings and Order dated June 13, 2016, the employee was awarded temporary partial and ongoing rehabilitation benefits but all other claims for benefits were denied. The judge also found that the employee had rebutted the retirement presumption as he worked beyond age 72 and conducted job search thereafter. That case went to the WCCA on appeal and the WCCA affirmed the denial of PTD benefits but remanded for payment of the rehabilitation consultation bill.

On June 7, 2017 the employer and insurer paid the TPD that was ordered in the 2016 Findings and Order after evidently attempting to negotiate a settlement with the employee up through April 3, 2017.

The employee then filed a new Rehabilitation Request seeking rehab services and job placement. Job placement closed after 60 days per the JPPA as no job was located. The employee then filed a new Claim Petition again seeking PTD benefits and penalties and interest for late payment of TPD benefits. The employer and insurer’s vocational expert opined that the employee self-limited his job search efforts and that job placement efforts were ineffective and the employee should have been able to find full time, light duty work. Another hearing was held with a Findings and Order dated March 25, 2019 wherein the compensation judge again denied PTD benefits but did award penalties for late payment of TPD and interest beginning 14 days after settlement negotiations broke down. The employee appealed.

The WCCA found that the compensation judge’s determination that the employee self-limited his job search and that job placement activities weren’t effective was based on substantial foundation and thus that portion of the decision was affirmed.

Regarding the claim for interest and penalties, at hearing the compensation judge found that interest was due starting 14 days after settlement negotiations stopped. On Appeal, the WCCA noted that a new Supreme Court case, Oseland v. Crow Wing County had come out after the hearing in this case and per Oseland, interest is owed from the date the late payments were due regardless of the reason for the delay. Thus, the interest decision was remanded to determine the interest owed to the employee calculated beginning 14 days after payment was ordered per the Findings and Order from the 2016 hearing.

Takeaway: benefits you are ordered to pay in a Findings and Order must be paid within 14 days to avoid interest and penalties – no exceptions.