Can an unemployed worker who complicated a pre-existing back injury when she fell from a chair while on the job get additional workers’ compensation benefits?
The New York Appellate Division, Third Department found that the worker wasn’t entitled to additional benefits since she voluntarily left the labor market after she received initial benefits for the injury.
Work-related fall disturbed hardware from lumbar surgery
Barbara Saporito was a court reporter for the Office of Court Administration who had lumbar surgery performed to address a non-work-related injury.
In March 2004, Saporito fell from her chair while at work, disturbing hardware from the lumbar surgery. The hardware was removed in November 2005 and Saporito returned to work until she was terminated in December 2006.
Saporito worked occasionally as a freelance court reporter until she eventually stopped all employment between 2007 and 2010.
Benefits awarded period around time of injury
In December 2011, Saporito was awarded workers’ compensation benefits for the injuries sustained in the March 2005 fall. The award was made at a temporary total disability rate for the period between Oct. 19, 2005 and Jan. 5, 2006.
Eight years later, Saporito sought additional award for lost time from Jan. 5, 2006, through the date of the hearing. She insisted that there was medical evidence to support an award for certain periods throughout that timespan.
Her employer argued that she couldn’t collect further benefits since she voluntarily removed herself from the workforce.
Judge awards benefits, Workers’ Compensation Board reverses
A workers’ compensation law judge found that Saporito had wage losses from a compensable injury and awarded her benefits at the temporary total disability rate. The judge marked certain periods of time as non-compensable over a lack of medical evidence.
The Workers’ Compensation Board reversed the judge’s decision and denied the additional benefits finding that Saportio’s separation from employment wasn’t related to her injury.
Court: Unemployment was voluntary, unrelated to injury
On appeal with the Appellate Division, Third Department, Saporito argued that she was entitled to the additional benefits.
However, she offered no documentary evidence relating to her termination from her job with the Office of Court Administration and couldn’t provide a consistent date for when she stopped working as a freelance court reporter. She claimed that she stopped working as a freelance court reporter because of severe back pain and the inability to carry the equipment needed for the job.
Saporito claimed that her doctors told her she was “100% disabled” and offered medical evidence revealing that she had a temporary total disability during various periods of time since 2006. However, the court found that “these medical records reflect only a partial disability or are incomplete and, further, there are lengthy gaps in the record — some spanning years — where no medical evidence of any disability was provided.”
Because of the inconsistencies in Saporito’s testimony and the significant gaps in medical evidence, the court found there was substantial evidence to support the Workers’ Compensation Board’s decision to deny additional benefits. Ultimately, the court found that Saporito’s initial separation from employment and continued unemployment were voluntary and weren’t causally related to her injury.