Workers’ compensation doesn’t just mandate that employers provide medical care, disability benefits and retraining benefits for injured workers. Workers’ compensation laws also mandate how employers provide these benefits.
A few recent decisions by Nebraska courts re-affirm the power the Judges of the workers’ compensation court have in dictating the details of workers compensation benefits – at least when it comes to medical care and vocational rehabilitation benefits.
Medical Care – Rogers v. Jack’s Supper Club
In Rogers v. Jack’s Supper Club, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s order that an employee injured in Nebraska who first treated in Nebraska who moved to Florida could treat with a doctor in Florida.
Jack’s Supper Club was originally decided by the Nebraska Supreme Court in late 2019. In that version of the case, the court held that it appeared that the employee had not properly changed doctors for the purposes of Nebraska law, but asked the trial court to clarify its order. I wrote last year that the original Jack’s decision was too harsh in my view because Judges can order doctor changes at their discretion under Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-120(6).
My reading of the second case is that the trial court expressly exercised its ability to change doctors and the Nebraska Supreme Court said it was fine.
Vocational Rehabilitation – Font v. JBS
In Font v. JBS, the Nebraska Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court decision that an employer must pay for a vocational rehabilitation program for a shoulder injury involving permanent impairment but not permanent restrictions. In that case, both the court-appointed vocational rehabilitation specialist and the court’s workers compensation section opposed developing a plan involving an injury without formal restrictions.
The court overruled these requests stating that physical restrictions were just one of many factors in determining eligibility for vocational services and that the purpose of VR is prompt rehabilitation. Again the Nebraska Court of Appeals, agreed with the trial court. Specifically, the court agreed with the trial court’s reading of 48-162.01(7) in awarding vocational rehabilitation benefits.
Cutting through red tape
In both Font and Rogers, the practical effect of the decisions was to help workers cut bureaucratic red tape imposed by employers, service providers and a government agency. While some regulation can be beneficial in a system like workers compensation, a lot of bureaucracy just makes it more difficult and expensive for workers to recover from work injuries.
But the Nebraska Workers Compensation Act gives Judges broad powers to cut through red tape – and at least in Jack’s Supper Club and Font v. JBS appellate courts seem to agree.