Workers’ Compensation – Labor Market Attachment (2012)
Our client left work because of an on-the-job injury in which she suffered serious injuries to her left shoulder and neck. She was eventually found to be permanently partially disabled by the Workers’ Compensation Board. Over the years, she returned to work on and off as her condition permitted and jobs were available within her restrictions.
During a period in which she was out of work, the insurance company took the position that she was only entitled to benefits if she was “attached to the labor market” and argued that her efforts to find work were inadequate and therefore her compensation payments should be suspended. A WCL Judge disagreed, finding that she had stopped work involuntarily as a result of being injured, and that her efforts to find work were reasonable.
The insurance company appealed, and the Workers’ Compensation Board found that although she did not stop work voluntarily, she was still required to look for work as a condition of receiving benefits and that her work search was inadequate. The Board suspended her payments.
We appealed, and the Appellate Division, Third Department reversed the Board in a 3-2 decision. The majority of the Appellate Division found – consistent with the law for many years – that where an injured worker stops work involuntarily due to the work-related disability, benefits are due for a partial disability regardless of whether they are “attached to the labor market.”
The insurance company and the Board appealed the Appellate Division’s decision. In a 4-3 opinion, a majority of the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, held that the Board may – but is not required to – require proof of labor market attachment as a condition of receiving benefits even where he or she stops work because of the work-related disability. The dissent strongly disagreed.
Based in part on the dissent, which adopted many of our arguments, the New York State Legislature amended the law in April of 2017 to overrule the Court of Appeals decision in cases involving permanent partial disability. However, the issue of labor market attachment remains in cases of temporary partial disability.