An appeals court upheld the denial of loss-of-use benefits for a widow who filed a claim for the brief time her husband lost the use of his limbs, eyes and ears from a brain injury before his death.
The Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals found a denial was warranted since the husband lost the use of his limbs, eyes and ears because of an anoxic brain injury, which isn’t a covered reason for loss-of-use under the state’s workers’ compensation act.
Pinned under bucket loader
Timothy Walters was a mechanic with Paradise Lawn Care. On May 16, 2018, he was working on a small bucket loader that was used to load mulch onto company trucks.
That day, the bucket loader was experiencing a hydraulic leak. Walters drove the bucket loader to an area behind the maintenance shop to make repairs.
As the owner of the company was walking to his office, he noticed Walters driving the bucket loader. A short time later, another employee notified the owner that Walters was found pinned under the bucket loader and was unconscious. The owner called 9-1-1 and then went to help Walters.
Walters was unconscious and unresponsive. The bucket loader had fallen over and landed on Walters’ chest, pinning him to the ground. Walters had been under the bucket loader for 10 to 15 minutes.
No obvious trauma to any part of his body
When emergency responders arrived, Walters had no pulse. Emergency responders began CPR, intubated Walters at the scene and then had him life-flighted to the Akron City Hospital.
In the hospital, emergency room doctors continued to try to resuscitate Walters, noting at one point the “return of spontaneous circulation after seven rounds of CPR.” The doctors were unable to identify any obvious trauma, nor had the emergency responders or Life Flight staff. One doctor noted that “interestingly, he has no obvious injuries (no fractures, no organ injuries).”
That same doctor diagnosed Walters as having had “either blunt cardiac trauma, or a respiratory arrest (likely from weight of object) that led to a cardiac arrest.” Walters was admitted to the ICU with diagnoses of traumatic cardiac arrest, acute respiratory failure, shock, anoxic brain injury and blunt injury to the chest. While still alive, Walters had no neurological function of his limbs, eyes and ears.
On May 17, 2018, Walters died from the injuries he sustained. The doctor noted that Walters “sustained a traumatic cardiac arrest as a result of traumatic asphyxiation as per the Medical Examiner’s report. Although he was initially successfully resuscitated, he sustained a severe anoxic brain injury.”
Medical evidence doesn’t justify loss-of-use benefits
Walters’ widow filed a claim for a scheduled loss-of-use award for the period of time when her husband couldn’t see, hear or use his arms and legs. A district hearing officer granted her motion and the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and Paradise Lawn Care appealed.
A hearing was held before a staff hearing officer and in September 2019, the district hearing officer’s decision was vacated and the widow’s claim was denied. The staff hearing officer found that the medical evidence didn’t show that an award of benefits were warranted. This was because Walters had lost the use of his eyes, ears and limbs because of an anoxic brain injury. That type of injury doesn’t satisfy the requirements for the requested loss of use award.
State law: Loss-of-use benefits must be for actual damage
Walters’ widow appealed that decision, requesting that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals grant her claim for loss-of-use benefits.
A magistrate appointed by the appeals court to look into the matter found such benefits should be denied because the Supreme Court of Ohio hasn’t allowed the loss of use of eyes and ears due only to anoxic brain injury.
The magistrate found that the emergency doctor’s report pointed to the loss of vision and hearing due to loss of brain function rather than damage to the structure or function of the eyes and ears. The Ohio Workers’ Compensation Act requires actual damage to structure or function to qualify for scheduled loss-of-use benefits. Walters’ arms and legs were also undamaged, so the same applied to them.
The appeals court agreed with the magistrate’s decision and adopted it, upholding the denial of the widow’s claim.