An illegally employed teen worker who suffered severe burns to multiple parts of his body while on the job can’t get additional workers’ compensation benefits.
Louisiana’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found the boy also wasn’t entitled to a lump sum payment of $50,000 under the state’s workers’ compensation law.
Fell down stairs while transporting hot cooking oil
Jose Moran, 14, was employed by Jacques-Imo Café, and on May 5, 2018, he was injured when he fell while transporting hot cooking oil down a stairwell. The hot oil covered Moran, causing second- and third-degree burns to multiple parts of his body.
After the incident, Moran received 100 weeks of temporary total disability benefits and permanent partial disability benefits. He also claimed that several aspects of his job, including requiring him to “transport dangerous chemicals,” meant he was illegally employed under federal child labor laws.
Failure to prove disability, qualification for $50K lump sum
Moran’s mother filed a disputed workers’ compensation claim and a petition for damages on his behalf on March 16, 2020. The petition requested compensation for Moran’s past, present and future expenses, lost wages and loss of earning capacity.
On May 20, 2020, the employer filed an exception for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which a workers’ compensation judge granted. The judge also dismissed with prejudice all of Moran’s child labor law claims.
A trial was held Aug. 9, 2021, and a trial court found that while Moran had shown a causal connection between the work incident and his injuries, he failed to prove he was disabled from work. The court also found that Moran wasn’t entitled to a $50,000 lump sum under the state workers’ compensation law. For a worker to get this lump sum due to a burn injury, the law requires the worker sustain third-degree burns of 40% or more of his total body surface.
Boy admits he can still work at $10/hour with restrictions
On appeal, Moran argued that the trial court erred in finding that he failed to:
- prove he was disabled from work as a result of injuries sustained in the work incident
- meet his burden that he is unable to earn 90% or more of his average pre-injury wages, and
- show that he was entitled to the $50,000 lump sum.
Moran’s treating physician and vocational rehabilitation counselor testified that Moran could perform regular work with restrictions, including being kept out of direct sunlight and away from exposure to prolonged heat. He also couldn’t work in environments that didn’t have air conditioning. The counselor felt Moran could work at the $10 per hour rate he’d been working at for the restaurant as long as he stayed within his limitations.
Moran testified that he lacked stamina and was affected by hot temperatures but still occasionally played night-time soccer and worked as a painter for his uncle. He said he didn’t want to get another job before graduation because of his injuries but would eventually apply for positions within his range of restrictions.
Evidence supports trial court’s decision
The appeals court found that this evidence proved Moran wasn’t disabled and was capable of earning $10 per hour at jobs within his restrictions, so it upheld the trial court decision.
As for the $50,000 lump sum payment, the appeals court also upheld that decision, finding that Moran had suffered burns across 36% of his body. However, there was no evidence presented as to which part of the total area consisted of third-degree versus second-degree burns, which was required under the law to be entitled to the lump sum payment.
‘Hired illegally, ordered to perform task adults wouldn’t attempt’
Despite upholding the trial court decisions, the appeals court noted that it followed “the law with grave concerns over its practical effect in cases such as this one.”
In its decision, the appeals court states, “Here, Mr. Moran was hired illegally, even without a certificate, and ordered to perform an inherently dangerous task that most adults would be hesitant to attempt on their own.”
The court goes on to say, “The law, as it stands, overlooks the illegality of employment as well as the breaches of safety and common sense that led to Mr. Moran’s injuries, while simultaneously allowing the negligent employer to benefit from the protection of the workers’ compensation statutes.”
The court also states that while “equity should arguably allow Mr. Moran’s claims for substantial life-long injury to proceed as a tort” it must lament that it “has no ability to fashion such relief.”