Total Incapacitation not only Proof of Disability in Wyoming

August 22, 2008 ( - The Wyoming State Supreme Court has decided that an employee's education and training level, and not just total incapacitation, can cause the worker to be eligible for permanent and total disability.

In the case of Robert Nagle, Jr. who appealed the denial of his claim for disability benefits, the court reviewed the facts in light of the state’s “odd lot doctrine,” defined as “providing that permanent total disability ‘may be found in the case of workers who, while not altogether incapacitated for work, are so handicapped that they will not be employed regularly in any well known branch of the labor market.” According to the opinion, “an injured workman who comes within the “odd-lot doctrine” need not show that he is totally incapable of doing any work at all in order to be entitled to an award for permanent total disability.”

Noting that Nagle had a high school education, spoke limited English, and had previously only worked in a coal mine, the court said, “[I]t would almost be impossible, in many instances, for a man educated only to do hard work, to show that at some time or other some good Samaritan might not turn up and offer him some light work which he might be able to do.”

In a previous case the Wyoming high court had said that if considerations of a claimant’s mental capacity, education, training, or age places claimant prima facie in the odd-lot category, the burden would then be on the employer to show that some kind of suitable work is available.

Nagle suffered open fracture, dislocation and crush injuries to his left foot, and received worker’s compensation benefits. He then sought an award of permanent total disability benefits, which the Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division denied.

Nagle also sought benefits for a “second compensable injury” that occurred when he fell in a parking lot and injured his wrist and hip – which he claimed was caused by his first injury. The Division denied that claim as well.

The Medical Commission and a district court, on review of the denials, both agreed with the Division. Nagle appealed.

The decision in Nagle, Jr. v. State of Wyoming is here .