An employee convinces one doctor to release him to go back to work after a foot injury. But another doctor says there’s no way he should return to his job. Should the employee continue to get total temporary disability benefits under workers’ comp?
Levon Flowers worked for Crown Cork & Seal in Mississippi. He was diagnosed with a foot injury — a ganglion cyst and bone spurring. The doctor advised Flowers to take six weeks off of work.
After four weeks, Flowers saw another doctor to see if he could return to work. That doctor released Flowers to return to his job even though he thought doing so could put him at greater risk of additional injury.
Flowers also underwent a medical exam performed by yet another doctor at Crown’s request. That doctor said Flowers’ injuries would be made worse by the prolonged walking and standing required by the job.
Based on that opinion, Crown didn’t reinstate Flowers who filed for workers’ comp benefits.
An administrative law judge found Flowers was entitled to temporary total disability (TTD) benefits up to the date his doctor cleared him to go back to work.
The workers’ comp commission and a county court both affirmed the decision. The case then went to the Mississippi Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals found since Flowers hadn’t reached maximum medical improvement, he was entitled to continue receiving TTD benefits until MMI was reached.
Next stop: the Mississippi Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court noted that the date a worker reaches MMI may coincide with the date he’s cleared to return to work, but that’s not always the case.
If a worker hasn’t reached MMI but is able to return to work, then he’s no longer eligible for TTD benefits.
However, that fact didn’t change the outcome in Flowers’ case. Even though Flowers hadn’t reached MMI, his doctor released him to go back to work.
But the company’s own medical exam determined Flowers wasn’t fit to go back to his job that required lots of standing and walking.
Because of that, the court said TTD benefits should have continued until the date Flowers reached MMI.
So the Mississippi Supreme Court sent the case back to the workers’ comp commission to determine when Flowers achieved MMI — that would be the date his TTD benefits would stop. The court also said the commission should determine whether Flowers is entitled to any permanent disability benefits under workers’ comp.
(Levon Flowers v. Crown Cork & Seal USA, Inc., Supreme Court of Mississippi, No. 2011-CT-01552-SCT, 4/17/14)