Monday, December 18, 2017

Published:09/30/2014

The court examined four cases in which the commission had assessed liability, in each individual case, against the Second Injury Fund by combining the preexisting injuries of the employee to make a determination that the SIF was liable to the employee in conjunction with a current injury. The Missouri Supreme Court reviewed the decisions, consolidated into this case, based on the commission’s interpretation of § 287.220.1. The SIF argued that the commission had incorrectly interpreted the statute to allow stacking of smaller, prior injuries to meet the standard for liability.

Section 287.220.1 states when the SIF is liable to an injured worker based on his/her past injuries. The Court determined § 287.220.1 did not permit the stacking of prior injuries to determine the liability of the SIF as the commission had done in these four cases. The Court based this opinion on:

The fact that the statute uses a singular form in describing a previous disability in the third sentence of the section and then uses a plural form in describing disability in the fifth sentence. Because the legislature specifically used the singular form, the legislature clearly meant to impose liability, which is done in the third sentence, only when at least one individual prior injury is of a sufficient magnitude to attach liability to the fund.

The commission was unable to combine the injuries to reach the required level without converting all the disabilities to a common unit of measurement. This shows the legislature’s intent that the statute should not be combined.

Amendments to the statute in 1993 added numerical thresholds which evidenced an intent by the legislature preexisting conditions needed to be sufficiently serious to trigger liability to the SIF.

The court distinguished the above ruling, however, by finding that once liability was triggered by one sufficiently serious preexisting condition, every preexisting condition should be used in the calculation of the amount of compensation. Section 287.220.1 requires the ALJ to calculate the compensation for preexisting disability by considering “all injuries or conditions existing at the time the last injury was sustained.”

In conclusion, the Court found that preexisting disabilities could not be stacked to establish liability for the SIF, but once liability attached to the SIF, every preexisting condition should be consider in the calculation of benefits for preexisting disabilities.