Safety and OSHA News

Company objects to cost of paraplegic worker’s house, car insurance

A fall rendered this worker paraplegic. The employer agreed to pay for housing and transportation costs but now objects to how costly they are. What did a court decide? 

While working for Kilyn Construction Inc. in Florida in 2012, Dedrick Pierce fell from a roof. Since then he has been confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed below the waist.

As a result of earlier litigation, Kilyn is responsible for providing Pierce handicap-accessible housing and a handicap-accessible van. Kilyn purchased a van for Pierce and paid the difference between the cost of his handicap-accessible apartment and his pre-injury housing.

Pierce lost the apartment and struggled to find a new one. Kilyn offered little or no help. Pierce eventually found a new home, a four-bedroom house that cost $3,500 per month. His previous two-bedroom apartment that was handicap-accessible cost about $1,000 a month.

In a similar situation, Pierce sought a new car insurance policy which cost $4,464 and wanted Kilyn to pay for it.

Kilyn fought the cost of the housing and car insurance, saying it would pay a reasonable amount for both.

A judge of compensation claims (JCC) ruled in Pierce’s favor on the house and insurance. Kilyn appealed to a state court.

Costs don’t stay the same forever, but …

Kilyn argued that the earlier litigation set the terms for its responsibility for Pierce’s housing and transportation.

But the appeals court found there was never any guarantee that the monthly cost of housing and transportation would stay the same forever. The court said the JCC properly rejected this argument.

Kilyn had a second argument: The JCC lacked a basis for awarding the specific costs Pierce requested.

The JCC found Pierce acted reasonably in finding the four-bedroom house and the insurance because Kilyn didn’t help him.

But the court said Kilyn’s failure to help doesn’t necessarily make Pierce’s proposed costs reasonable. The JCC had failed to make factual findings to support the conclusion that the housing and insurance costs were reasonable. For example, there was testimony that a minimum auto insurance policy for Pierce was available for only $712.

“On remand, the JCC should determine whether any particular housing arrangement Pierce seeks is reasonable and necessary,” the court wrote.

So the ultimate decision still has to be determined. But the appeals court said, under the circumstances, it couldn’t find a reason to grant Pierce’s request. He’d have to show why he needed new housing that cost more than 3.5 times what he had been paying, and auto insurance that cost more than six times another available policy.

(Kilyn Construction Inc. vo. Dedrick Pierce, District Court of Appeal, First District, Florida, No. 1D15-5851, 10/4/16)

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