Last week, the IAFF won a major victory before the Missouri Supreme Court.
2nd District Vice President Mark Woolbright contacted me about a very troubling workers' compensation decision by a Missouri Court of Appeals. Although the court ruled in the employee's favor, the decision held that to qualify for workers' compensation, a worker must exhibit visible symptoms of an injury at the time of the incident. This decision threatened fire fighters' ability to obtain workers’ compensation in Missouri because several of the types of injuries that fire fighters experience on the job, including internal injuries and injuries masked by adrenaline, do not manifest observable symptoms until hours or even days after the injury occurred.
Upon learning that the Court of Appeals decision was being appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court by the employer and the insurance carrier, and at DVP Woolbright's request, I immediately mobilized the full strength of the IAFF to challenge this restrictive standard. The IAFF's Legal Counsel worked with the IAFF's Chief Medical Officer and Science and Research staff to craft an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief submitted to the Missouri Supreme Court on behalf of the IAFF showing why the decision was harmful to fire fighters and would jeopardize their right to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.
On November 21, the Supreme Court rejected the employer's and the insurance carrier's arguments. Importantly for fire fighters, the Court ruled, as the IAFF requested, that testimony from a doctor after the fact that an on-the-job injury caused symptoms is credible evidence that an injury meets the criteria for workers’ compensation coverage in Missouri. This win ensures fire fighters can continue to obtain workers’ compensation for on-the-job injuries that do not immediately manifest symptoms, provided they have doctors who testify that current symptoms were suffered on the job.
This is a significant victory for Missouri fire fighters, as it allows doctors to provide credible evidence of whether an injury was caused on the job, rejecting efforts to narrow the scope of obtaining workers’ compensation only to those situations when symptoms are observable to a third party at the time of injury.
Please contact DVP Woolbright if you have questions about the decision or how it impacts fire fighters in Missouri. The case is Harper v. Springfield Rehab and Health Care Center/NHC Health, No. SC100006.
Be You. Be Strong. Be Fire Fighters.
Edward A. Kelly