10.14.2011

Ohio Supreme Court Gives Further Guidance Regarding Voluntariness of Retirement and Its Effect on Workers’ Compensation Benefits

In an October 4, 2011 decision, the Supreme Court of Ohio addressed the character of an injured workers' retirement as it related to his eligibility for permanent total disability (PTD) compensation. The case, State ex rel. Cinergy Corp./Duke Energy v. Heber, 2011-Ohio-5027, involved a company's long-time employee who was injured in 1970, retired in 1989, and then applied for PTD compensation in 2008. The injured worker's application was granted administratively, and the employer filed a complaint in mandamus in the court of appeals, alleging that the Industrial Commission had abused its discretion in granting the injured worker's PTD application without first ruling on the voluntariness of his retirement.

In its decision, the Supreme Court of Ohio reflected on prior holdings which substantiated the premise that the "character" (i.e., voluntary versus involuntary) of an injured worker's retirement was critical to a PTD analysis. The Court cited State ex rel. Rockwell International v. Industrial Commission (1988), 40 Ohio St.3d 44, for its holding that a retirement initiated by an injured worker for reasons unrelated to the industrial injury is considered voluntary and State ex rel. Baker Material Handling Corp. v. Industrial Commission (1994), 69 Ohio St.3d 202, for its holding that a voluntary retirement from the work force prior to asserting PTD precludes the payment of compensation for that disability.

Regarding the case at hand, the Court stated that, even though the issue of the injured worker's retirement was raised at the hearing, the hearing officer's order granting PTD gave only brief reference to the injured worker’s assertion that he retired because of his injury. The Court said that the hearing officer did not rule on the credibility of the assertion or the voluntariness of the injured worker's retirement. The Court stated that it agreed with the court of appeals that further consideration by the Industrial Commission was merited. The Court, though, disagreed with the court of appeal's implication that the only way an injured worker could substantiate that a retirement was injury induced was through the submission of medical evidence prepared at the time of retirement. The Court stated that Ohio Adm. Code 4121-3-34(D)(1)(d) does not say this but, in fact, says "if" such evidence is submitted, the Industrial Commission must consider it. The Court reinforced the premise that the Industrial Commission is the "exclusive evaluator of the weight and credibility of the evidence presented" and stated that there may be other evidence that substantiates the connection between injury and retirement which the Industrial Commission should be able to consider.

For more information on voluntary retirement and its effect on workers’ compensation benefits, contact one of Roetzel’s workers’ compensation attorneys.



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cdebski@ralaw.com

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