A worker experiencing vision loss connected to his job-related injury can’t collect additional workers’ compensation benefits, according to the Ohio Tenth District Court of Appeals.
The appeals court adopted a magistrate judge’s decision finding that the worker’s vision loss didn’t qualify for additional benefits since the structures of the eyes weren’t damaged during the injury incident.
Granted permanent total disability benefits
Stephen Harris was working as a correctional officer with the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility when he was physically assaulted by an inmate on June 4, 2014, according to the appeals court decision. The incident led to injuries to Harris’ head and shoulders.
He filed a workers’ compensation claim for:
- a closed head injury
- scalp and jaw abrasions
- contusions to the back, right shoulder and right elbow
- torn right rotator cuff
- agoraphobia with panic disorder
- post-concussion syndrome
- blurred vision in the left eye, and
- a visual field loss in the left eye.
Harris was eventually approved for permanent total disability benefits and filed for additional benefits for loss of vision.
Industrial Commission denies additional benefits
Multiple doctors and specialists found that his vision loss was connected to his head injury and wasn’t the result of any actual damage to the structure of the eyes themselves.
However, as one doctor pointed out, Ohio’s workers’ compensation laws do “not permit an award for loss of vision or hearing resulting from the loss of brain functioning. To be entitled to an award for loss of vision or hearing, evidence must demonstrate an actual injury to the eyes or ears.”
A district hearing officer with the Ohio Industrial Commission denied the additional benefits on those grounds and a staff hearing officer affirmed the decision. The Commission itself declined to review the decision when Harris filed a petition to appeal.
Judge finds medical evidence, caselaw supports denial
The Tenth District Court of Appeals referred the case to a magistrate judge. The judge found that the medical evidence showed the loss of vision was due to a loss of brain function rather than actual damage to the eyes, so no additional benefits could be granted under state law. Based on that factual determination, the judge found the Industrial Commission and its officers made a proper decision in denying benefits for vision loss.
In reviewing the judge’s decision, the appeals court found there was adequate evidence to support the judge’s findings and that past caselaw supported his decision, so the court adopted the ruling as its own and denied Harris’ appeal.