Court Decisions

COURT DECISIONS


Case Type: Injury on Lunch Break in Company Parking Lot

Elsa Barata v. Hopkins Manor (March, 2017)
The Court granted benefits to an employee who punched out for her lunch break, ate her lunch in her
car in the company parking lot, and was injured after exiting her car when she slipped and fell on ice in
the parking lot. The Court noted that the Going and Coming Rule generally bars compensation for injuries that occur while traveling to or from the workplace. However, the Court found that the parking lot where the employee was injured was part of the workplace since it was owned and maintained by the employer and also found that the employer knew that employee's often take their lunch breaks in their cars.
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Case Type: Injury on Lunch Break

Deborah Moore v. Rhode Island Hospital (January, 2017)
An employee was found entitled to workers' compensation benefits where the injury occurred on a lunch break. The Court granted the employee’s request for benefits based on the lunch break being a permitted incident of employment and where the injury occurred on the premises of the employer.
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Case Type: Changing Total Disability to Partial Disability

Joseph Brazil v. Wal-Mart (2016)
The Court reaffirmed its prior rulings that when an injured worker is determined to be totally disabled, the burden shifts to the employer to prove that his condition has improved to partial disability. This requires the employer to present medical evidence that draws a comparison between the injured worker's physical condition on the date he became totally disabled to his condition at the time of a physical examination by a doctor who finds him partially disabled; the comparison must show an improvement in his condition.
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Case Type: Continuation of Benefits Beyond 312 Weeks

Marilyn Washington v. RIPTA (February, 2015)
An injured worker was granted continuing benefits beyond 312 weeks (6 years) based on the expert opinion of a vocational rehabilitation counselor that the physical restrictions of her work injury pose a material hindrance to obtaining employment. The Court noted that the injured worker is not required to show that she is incapable of performing any type of work, only that her partial disability substantially impedes her ability to obtain employment.
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Case Type: Refusal of Suitable Alternative Employment

Jan Co., Inc. v. Mari Woodard (March, 2014)
The Court ruled that an injured worker, who injured her dominant arm at work, did not refuse an offer of suitable alternative employment based on the employer's failure to prove that she could physically perform the duties of the suitable alternative job offered. The employer stated that the job could be performed one-handed but the trial judge was concerned about whether the job could realistically be performed with one hand in the actual fast-paced work environment of a fast food restaurant.
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Case Type: Injury While on Coffee Break

Dispirito v. City of Providence (October, 2013)
Employee who was injured during coffee break was found entitled to benefits. The Court ruled that the injury occurred close to the place of employment where the employer might reasonably have expected the employee to be and the break was related to her employment in that its purpose was to get rest and refreshment which would aid the employee in her employment.  
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Case Type: Risk of Injury/Street Peril Doctrine

Ellis v. Verizon New England (RI Supreme Court, April, 2013)
Employee who was assaulted at work in a random attack by a stranger was granted benefits on the basis of the "Street Peril Doctrine". The Court held that the employee was required to travel on public roads as part of his job and was therefore exposed to the actual risk of injury while doing so. The risks of the street are the risks of employment if the employment requires the employee's use of the street.
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Case Type: Vocational Rehabilitation

Jaspers v. University Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery (February, 2012)
Employee's proposed vocational rehabilitation plan was denied. The employee wanted a complete career change involving a college degree. Although the goal of rehabilitation is to restore an employee to pre-injury earnings, the law does not provide an employee with the absolute freedom to choose whatever vocational goal she desires. The Court found that there were other less time-consuming and less costly retraining options that would allow her to get a job. The Court held that the employee's proposed plan was not reasonable and necessary to allow her to return to work based on her refusal to accept vocational services that would assist her in returning to work utilizing her existing skills and background.
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Case Type: Variable Partial Weekly Benefits

Technic v. Fernandes (April, 2011)
An employee who returned to work as a real estate agent while still disabled from the work related injury was entitled to continuing weekly workers' comp payments based on the difference between the employee's average weekly wage before the injury and the amount of commissions earned as an agent. The workers' compensation payments shall be based on the amount of commission earned for the week in which each commission is paid rather than pro-rate the commission over a period of time.
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Case Type: Total Disability - Odd Lot Doctrine

Larkin v. RI Blood Center (January, 2011)
Medical conditions that are not work related may not be considered in determining whether an employee meets the standard for total disability pursuant to the Odd Lot Doctrine. Only physical limitations of the work related injury and other vocational criteria (age, education, background, abilities and training) are to be considered.
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Case Type: Continuation of Benefits Beyond 312 Weeks

Rothemich v. St. Joseph Health Services (January, 2011) 
In a petition for continuation of benefits beyond 312 weeks, the only factor to be considered in determining whether an employee's injury poses a material hindrance to obtaining employment is the employee's disability from the work related injury. An employee's personal profile, including factors such as age, transferable skills, and education may not be considered.
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Case Type: Causal Relationship/Going & Coming Rule

McGloin v. Trammelcrow Services (RI Supreme Court, February, 2010)
Employee was leaving home to go to work in company van and stopped to help move a snowbound vehicle that was blocking the exit from his apartment parking lot. Although the "Going & Coming Rule" generally precludes benefits for injuries that occur while commuting to or from work, the employee was granted benefits on the grounds that he drove a company vehicle home from work every day, was on call 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, and his primary work space was the van provided by his employer. The Court held that once he got into his van, he was not commuting - he was essentially traveling with his office. The Court held that the injury occurred during the period of his employment because he was always on call, and while he was performing a task related to his job, i.e., eliminating an obstacle preventing him from doing his employer's business.
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Case Type: Psychological Injury with Pre-existing Condition

Mello v. City of Providence (February, 2010)
Employee who suffered a psychological disorder due to an assault by a co-worker was not disqualified from workers' comp benefits due to a pre-existing psychological disorder. This case reaffirms the principle that an employer takes its employees as they are, including whatever pre-existing conditions or dispositions they may have.
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Case Type: Effect of Retirement Benefits

RI Mack Sales v. Letendre (April, 2009)
Injured worker who began receiving Social Security retirement benefits was found entitled to continuing weekly workers' compensation benefits without reduction. The case contains an excellent discussion on the effect of different types of retirement benefits on weekly workers' compensation benefits.
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Case Type: Suitable Alternative Employment/Termination of Benefits

Mumma v. Cumberland Farms, Inc. (RI Supreme Court, March, 2009)
Supreme Court ruled that an employer is not obligated to provide an employee who returned to work at suitable alternative employment with the rights, benefits, and protections of suitable alternative employment after the employee has received benefits for 312 weeks of partial disability.
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Case Type: Employee/Independent Contractor

Notarangelo v. Cullen Enterprises (May, 2008)
Injured worker was found to be ineligible for workers' compensation benefits based on the trial judge's decision that he was working as an independent contractor for the employer, not as an employee. The Appellate Division, in upholding the decision, discussed all of the circumstances that are relevant to determining whether an injured worker is an employee or an independent contractor.
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Case Type: Going and Coming Rule

Nancy Almeida v. Blackstone Valley Advocacy (January, 2008)
Benefits were denied to an employee who was injured in a car accident on her way to work. The employee was "on call" during a weekend when she was not regularly scheduled to work. Being "on call" required her to respond to all pages on her beeper and cover any shifts as necessary. While "on call", she received a call to cover a shift at work. The employee was involved in a car accident while en route to work in response to the call. The court denied benefits based on the "going and coming rule" which generally precludes compensation to employees who are injured in the course of a commute to work. The case includes a dissenting opinion from a judge who would have granted benefits based on a "special errand" exception to the rule.
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Case Type: Idiopathic Fall 

Patricia A. Ward v. K-Mart (May, 2007)
Court denied benefits to an employee who fell at work and fractured her ankle. The court ruled that her fall was "idiopathic" meaning that it was caused by her own personal physical condition and was not related to any condition of employment even though it occurred at work.
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Case Type: Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)

City of Pawtucket v. Michael Pimental (March, 2007)
Court ruled that the employee had reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) even though surgery had been recommended by his doctor. The Court ruled that there was no further treatment that would improve the employee's condition because he had refused to have the surgery and was therefore at MMI. Benefits were also reduced to 70% of the regular compensation rate because the employee was at MMI and had made no effort to find a job.
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Case Type: Aggravation of Pre-existing condition

Winifred Wood v. Aramark Food Services (January, 2007)
Benefits awarded for aggravation of pre-existing neck condition where employee had complaints of neck pain before work injury. The Court ruled that the injury at work aggravated pre-existing osteoarthritis in the neck and resulted in the need for surgery.
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Case Type: Continuation of Benefits

Josefina Donahue v. Ross Simons (May, 2006)
Court denied continuation of benefits beyond six years of partial disability payments. The injured worker had a back injury with limitations of no lifting over ten pounds, no repeated bending or twisting and no sitting for more than thirty minutes at a time. She had been looking for work with no success. Court heard testimony from three vocational counselors with differing opinions as to the injured worker's ability to find suitable employment. Court relied on the vocational counselor who testified that there were a significant number of jobs available in the community that the injured worker could do and that she had the ability to compete for those jobs with a legitimate opportunity to be hired.
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Case Type: Psychological Injury

Artecia Price v. Bess Eaton (January, 2006)
Benefits awarded for a psychological injury where the mental disorder (post-traumatic stress disorder) was caused or accompanied by a physical injury (neck injury caused by physical assault). Although the employee had a past history of psychiatric treatment and traumatic events which may have made her more susceptible to psychological problems, the Court held that this did not preclude an award of benefits based on evidence that the assault triggered the psychological disorder. In so ruling, the Court referred to the long-standing premise that an employer takes its employees as it finds them, with whatever preexisting conditions or predispositions they may have.
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Case Type: Continuation of Benefits 

Maria Silva Cabral v. Crystal Brands (November, 2005)
Court denied continuation of benefits beyond six years of partial disability payments. Court ruled that age, education, and training are not considered in determining whether the injured worker’s partial disability poses a material hindrance to obtaining employment; only the physical restrictions of the injured worker’s work related injury are considered in making such a determination. 
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Case Type: Odd Lot Statute

Azadouhi Torossian v. Quality Cleaners (October, 2005)
Injured worker who was partially disabled due to physical effects of injury was awarded total disability benefits pursuant to odd lot statute based on evidence that she is unemployable due to her injury combined with her age, limited education, past work and lack of transferable skills, and difficulty communicating in English.
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Case Type: Reinstatement to Employment

Elizabeth Norton v. Browne & Sharpe, Mfg. (October, 2005)
Court denied reinstatement based on evidence that injured workers’ position was no longer available and there was no other vacant position that was available and suitable.
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Case Type: Fraud

Marriott c/o Providence Schools v. Carmelo D’Anzi (September, 2005)
Injured worker was observed performing tasks at private club while under surveillance by private investigators. Court dismissed allegation of fraud where there was no evidence of wages earned by injured worker and no evidence that injured worker intended to defraud court or intentionally misrepresent his condition.
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Case Type: Maximum Medical Improvement/End of Disability

GTech Corporation v. Michelle A. Pizzitola (June, 2005)
To prove an end of disability after an injured worker has been found to be at maximum medical improvement, an employer/insurance company must prove that the injured workers’ condition has “substantially improved” since the date of the MMI finding. This requires medical testimony comparing the injured workers’ condition at the time of the MMI finding to his/her present condition. 
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Case Type: Hepatitis

Raphael Carter v. The Housing Authority of the City of Cranston (May, 2005)
Injured worker was changing a trash container when he was stuck by a needle used to administer medicine that was in the trash bag. He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C three years later. Benefits were awarded based on medical evidence that the disease was caused by the needlestick three years earlier.
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Case Type: Suitable Alternative Employment

Brown University v. Manual Santos (March, 2005) 
Benefits were reduced for injured worker who accepted offer of suitable alternative employment but stopped working four months later. Court found that injured worker did not have valid grounds for leaving the job in light of evidence that there was no change in his condition from the date when he first began the job and his doctor never said that he was physically incapable of continuing to work.
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