Lawrence Turner, permanently and totally disabled from a work-related injury, requested a new van to accommodate an electric wheelchair. His former employer, Southern Alloy & Metals denied the request. How did a court rule?
In 1975, Turner suffered a compensable injury that rendered him paraplegic and unable to perform mobility-related activities of daily living. He has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.
After a 2014 evaluation, a doctor recommended Turner be provided with a power-tilt wheelchair. To accommodate the larger wheelchair, the doctor advised a new modified van was necessary. The doctor issued a letter of medical recommendation. Southern Alloy declined to provide the van.
Turner sought a hearing before an administrative law judge. Southern Alloy responded that Turner had a van that had been fully modified and equipped to accommodate his medical condition. The company also claimed that if the van had reached the end of its useful life, Alloy’s obligation was limited to modifying and equipping a new van bought by Turner.
The ALJ ruled in favor of the company. The Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission affirmed the ALJ’s ruling. Turner took his case to a state appeals court.
It turns out the appeals court had previously addressed the issue of wheelchair-accessible vans twice before, but each case had a different outcome. Why were the decisions different? It depended on whether the injury occurred before the Arkansas workers’ comp law was amended in 1993.
Since 1993, the law has said, “The employer shall promptly provide for an injured employee such … apparatus as may be reasonably necessary in connection with the injury received by the employee.” In the revised law, “apparatus” wasn’t tied to medical services.
But before 1993, the law said, “apparatus as may be reasonably necessary for the treatment of the injury received by the employee.”
In one previous ruling, the court had found the employee wasn’t entitled to a wheelchair-accessible vehicle because it wasn’t part of injury treatment.
Turner pointed to the doctor’s letter of medical recommendation and a prescription for the van, noting the doctor’s opinion that the van is “medically recommended.”
The court agreed with the ALJ and Commission that the van wasn’t necessary for the treatment of Turner’s injuries. Since his injury occurred in 1975, the court had to use the previous version of the Arkansas workers’ compensation law.
(Lawrence Gary Turner v. Southern Alloy & Metals Corp., Arkansas Court of Appeals, Div. 3, 5/3/17)