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Alabama Court of Civil Appeals Clarifies Benefits Due Injured Workers Returning to Work at Same Wage

Carolyn Malone v. Steelchase, Inc.

Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama

September 20, 2013

After suffering a work-related injury to her lower back, Carolyn Malone returned to work at Steelchase earning the same wage she was earning prior to her injury. At trial she was awarded permanent partial disability benefits, but the trial court applied Ala. Code § 25-5-57(c)3, and offset Malone's compensation award by an amount equal to the excess Malone received in wages above the weekly benefit due after she reached MMI and returned to work. The dispute focused on the correct application of the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act's provisions regarding returning to work at the same or greater salary, and the proper measure of compensation due such employees who have suffered a non-scheduled permanent partial disability.

Malone was not a salaried employee who continued to receive her full pay while working light duty. Malone returned to work in earnest. However, The Court of Civil Appeals bypassed Malone's argument that she did not earn a "sympathy salary", but that she earned her wages through her labor. The Court instead based their ruling on an appropriate method for construing the terms of the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, agreeing with Malone that § 25-5-57(a)(3)i controls the determination of her award of permanent-partial-disability benefits because that provision is more specific than § 25-5-57(c)(3).

Ala. Code § 25-5-57(a)(3)i, the return-to-work statute, provides that when an injured employee returns to work and no actual wage loss occurs, then the measure of compensation due is that amount equal to the award for physical-impairment benefits. The court is not allowed to consider vocational impairment. Said statute is specific to Malone's situation.

The Court of Civil Appeals found in a 5-0 decision that the return-to-work statute was enacted by the Alabama legislature to govern such a situation as Malone's return to work, whereby she is earning her same pre-injury wage. "Accordingly, we hold that the legislature did not intend that §25-5-57(c)(3) would apply in situations covered by the return-to-work statute but that the two statutes have separate fields of operation. Viewing the language of 25-5-57(c)(3) in isolation, it is understandable that the trial court applied the salary credit to this case. However, applying that language to this fact scenario produces an irreconcilable conflict between 25-5-57(c)(3) and the return-to-work statute, depriving the latter of any effect."

If you are currently fighting for fair compensation for your work injury, be sure to contact us at Stephen F. Thompson, Jr. Attorney at Law today.

Categories: Workers' Compensation
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