The employee was involved in a work-related motor vehicle accident on December 18, 2002 which rendered her a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair. She is permanently and totally disabled. The employer and insurer admitted liability and paid wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability, rehabilitation expenses, medical expenses, and residence remodeling expenses.
The employee filed a claim petition in October of 2014 seeking reimbursement of her out of pocket expense for a 2003 Dodge Caravan handicap accessible van that she purchased on May 3, 2004 and for payment of a 2014 Toyota Sienna which was noted to be a replacement handicap accessible van purchased with funds from a family member. The 2003 Dodge Caravan base cost was $17,727 and the 2014 Toyota Sienna costed $32,466.08 after deduction of proceeds from the sale of the Dodge Caravan.
The employer and insurer paid the conversion costs to enable the employee to operate the van but denied the base cost on the grounds that they were required only to upgrade the employee’s existing van to make it handicapped accessible.
The compensation judge denied the base cost of both vehicles as medical expenses and denied the 2003 vehicle as a rehabilitation expense after finding that the vehicle did not enable the employee to seek or engage in employment on a sustained basis and denied the 2014 vehicle as a rehabilitation expense on the basis that it was premature to determine whether the van will assist the employee in returning to employment.
The employee appealed only the findings that related to denial of the 2003 Dodge Caravan as rehabilitation expenses (she initially included the 2014 vehicle as well, but withdrew that component of the appeal).
On appeal, the WCCA affirmed the compensation judge’s findings. The WCCA noted that “in appropriate circumstances, the full cost of a handicap accessible van appropriately may be awarded to a disabled employee under the Workers’ Compensation Act.” However, the WCCA explained that the employee in this case failed to prove that the purchase of the 2003 Dodge Caravan and use of that vehicle from May 2004 through October 2014 assisted her in returning to employment. Her only attempt at employment during that 10 year span was a 5 month part time job with the pre-injury employer. The WCCA also noted that the employee had no rehabilitation plan in place regarding a return to work and in fact required extensive medical treatment for her conditions that left her incapable of working. Thus, the denial of the base cost of the 2003 Dodge Caravan as a rehabilitation expense was affirmed.