Meyer v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. WC14-5675 (July 10, 2014)
The employee injured her right hand and both wrists during her employment with Wal-Mart. The employer and insurer paid permanent partial disability. Later, she filed a claim petition alleging she was totally and permanently disabled as a result of the same injuries.
Following a hearing, a compensation judge determined the employee did not meet the permanent partial disability threshold found in Minn. Stat. § 176.101, subd. 5 and therefore the medical evidence did not support that the employee was permanently and totally disabled as a result of the work injuries.
The employee appealed the finding that she is not permanently totally disabled, arguing that the judge erred by finding she was not totally and permanently disabled because there was no evidence in the record regarding her ability to find and hold employment. Further, she argued that such a finding may bar future claims due to res judicata, the legal principle that a matter may not be relitigated once it has been judged on the merits.
The WCCA determined the appeal was premature and declined to issue an advisory opinion on whether res judicata barred any future claim. There would be no justiciable controversy until: (1) a new claim for permanent total disability was filed by the employee, (2) the res judicata defense was raised, (3) the judge hearing the dispute accepted the defense and barred the claim, and (4) the employee appealed that decision.