IN SUPREME COURT
Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals
Filed: January 18, 2007
Office of Appellate Courts
Coca Cola Enterprises, Inc., and Sedgwick
Claims Management Services, Inc.,
S Y L L A B U S
The temporary total disability compensation cessation condition in Minn. Stat. § 176.101, subd. 1(i) (2004), under which temporary total disability compensation ceases if an employee refuses an offer of suitable work, does not apply to work offers made before the commencement of temporary total disability compensation.
Employee’s engagement in activities beyond the restrictions set by a physician did not constitute a constructive refusal of suitable employment.
Considered and decided by the court en banc without oral argument.
O P I N I O N
ANDERSON, Paul H., Justice.
We review on certiorari a decision
of the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals
(WCCA) reversing a workers’ compensation judge’s determination to discontinue
temporary total disability benefits being paid to
When Falls reported to work at Coca Cola on the evening of May 18, she presented her work restrictions to her supervisor. The supervisor assigned her to light-duty work, initially assisting another route driver with the driver’s clerical work. In order to provide this assistance, Falls rode in the passenger seat of the other driver’s truck. Although the driver’s seat in the truck was an “air-ride” truck seat, the passenger seat was metal and as a result, the bouncing of the truck aggravated Falls’ elbow condition. Consequently, on May 19, Falls’ supervisor reassigned her to a job counting bottle caps.
Falls was scheduled to be away from work from the morning of May 22 until the beginning of her night shift on May 24, 2005, so she did not work on those days. On her next regularly scheduled work day, May 24, she called in sick due to pain in her left elbow that prevented her from operating the clutch on her motorcycle. She remained on sick-leave status for one week, during which time she had her motorcycle clutch replaced with one that was easier to operate.
Meanwhile, on receipt of Falls’
“off-work physician’s slip,” Coca Cola’s claims management service commenced
payment of temporary total disability benefits as of June 1, 2005. But, from
Falls filed an objection to the discontinuance of wage loss benefits, and the matter was referred for an expedited hearing before a workers’ compensation judge. At the hearing, Coca Cola asserted that Minn. Stat. § 176.101, subd. 1(i), precluded Falls from receiving temporary total disability compensation because she refused a suitable work offer. While this assertion differed from the grounds originally asserted by Coca Cola, Falls did not object to this expansion of the issues before the compensation judge.
Evidence presented to the compensation judge included
deposition testimony of Falls’ family physician who indicated that by
July 25, 2005, Falls could have returned to truck driving, but not
throwing cases. The physician acknowledged
that, at all times following the injury, Falls would have been physically
capable of performing light duty work involving only the use of her right arm. Coca Cola presented as evidence the videotape
taken by its surveillance crew. Coca
Cola also submitted a report from an adverse medical consultant who saw Falls on
The workers’ compensation judge found that based on the
surveillance videotape of Falls’ activity between
We will not disturb the findings
of a workers’ compensation judge that have been affirmed by the WCCA unless the
judge’s findings are manifestly contrary to the evidence or unless the evidence
clearly requires reasonable minds to adopt a contrary conclusion. Pelowski
v. K-Mart Corp., 627 N.W.2d 89, 92 (
Temporary total disability benefits, which are payable during a period of total disability, are subject to eight “cessation” and “recommencement” provisions. Minn. Stat. § 176.101, subd. 1(d) (2004). Temporary total disability benefits cease when: (1) the employee returns to work, id., subd. 1(e); (2) when the employee withdraws from the labor market, id., subd. 1(f); (3) when the employee fails to make a diligent search for work, id., subd. 1(g); (4) when the employee has been released to work without restrictions, id., subd. 1(h); (5) when the employee refuses an offer of suitable work, id., subd. 1(i); (6) 90 days after maximum medical improvement, id., subd. 1(j); (7) when 104 weeks of temporary total disability benefits have been paid, id., subd. 1(k); and (8) if there are other grounds under the law to suspend or discontinue these benefits, id.,subd. 1(l). Coca Cola asserts that subdivision 1(i) mandates the cessation of Falls’ benefits. The workers’ compensation judge agreed with Coca Cola when it determined that Falls’ temporary total disability benefits were subject to discontinuance under subdivision 1(i) because Falls refused an offer of suitable work.
When reversing the workers’ compensation judge, the
WCCA adhered to the rule that the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act
must be considered in light of related provisions. Zurich
Am. Ins. Co. v. Bjelland, 710 N.W.2d 64, 68 (
On appeal, Coca Cola relies on contract law principles
to support its argument that, by offering Falls suitable light-duty work before
the period of her total disability, it had offered Falls a position within her
restrictions, and therefore Minn. Stat. § 176.101, subds. 1(d) and (i), require
that her benefits cease. We have said
that: “Strictly speaking, the rights and liabilities created by the Workers’
Compensation Act are imposed on the employment relationship pursuant to the
police power, independently of any actual or implied contract.” Joyce
v. Lewis Bolt & Nut Co., 412 N.W.2d 304, 307 (
But, contrary to Coca Cola’s
argument, the basic principles related to payment of wage-loss benefits are not
grounded on contract law. Instead, “[l]iability
on the part of an employer or the insurer for disability of a temporary total,
temporary partial, and permanent total nature shall be considered as a
continuing product and part of the employee’s inability to earn or reduction in
earning capacity due to injury or occupational disease.”
Compensable disability is generally
viewed as the “inability, as the result of a work-connected injury, to perform or
obtain” suitable work. 4 Larson &
Larson, supra,at 80-1; see Schulte v. C.H. Peterson Constr. Co., 278
Moreover, Minn. Stat. § 176.101, subd. 1(i), provides that: “[o]nce temporary total disability compensation has ceased under this paragraph, it may not be recommenced.” Consequently, under the statute, an employee who refuses suitable work forfeits temporary total disability benefits for any and all future periods of temporary total disability that are caused by the same injury.
Workers’ compensation is a purely
legislative creation, but we have stated that “‘[b]asic fairness requires that
the parties in a workers’ compensation proceeding be afforded reasonable notice
and an opportunity to be heard before decisions concerning entitlement to
benefits can be made.’” Manderfeld v.
J.C. Penney, 526 N.W.2d 52, 54 (
Under the current system, the forfeiture for refusing an offer of work might not be as significant as the forfeiture under the two-tier system we reviewed in Manderfeld; but for some injured workers, like Falls—who received three weeks out of the statutory maximum of 104 weeks of benefits—the forfeiture could have considerable financial impact. We conclude that the WCCA’s reading of the current statutory scheme—that conditions the discontinuance of temporary total disability benefits on an actual offer of suitable work during the payment of those benefits—properly addresses the same “basic fairness” concerns we noted in Manderfeld. We therefore conclude that the cessation condition in Minn. Stat. § 176.101, subd. 1(i), under which temporary total disability benefits cease if the employee refuses an offer of suitable work, does not apply to work offers made before the commencement of temporary total disability benefits. Because Coca Cola made its job offer to Falls in May 2005 before the commencement of her temporary total disability benefits on June 1, 2005, we hold that the workers’ compensation judge erred in terminating Falls’ benefits and therefore the WCCA’s decision reversing the compensation judge on this issue should be affirmed.
Coca Cola also argues that Falls’ conduct amounted to
a constructive refusal of a work offer.
The WCCA has concluded that a “constructive refusal may be inferred from
an unjustifiable and intentional failure to respond to a job offer within a
reasonable time or from misconduct by the employee after the return to work
which justifies the employee’s termination.”
Falls, 2006 WL 1324475, at *4
(citations omitted). Here, the WCCA
declined “to expand the scope of constructive refusal beyond [its own] case law
and hold that an employee who engages in activities beyond the restrictions set
by the treating doctor is refusing employment and is precluded from temporary
total disability benefits.”
Employee is awarded $1,200 in attorney fees.
 “For injury producing temporary total
disability, the compensation is 66-2/3 percent of the weekly wage at the time
 Minnesota Statutes § 176.101, subd. 1(i), provides:
Temporary total disability compensation shall cease if the employee refuses an offer of work that is consistent with a plan of rehabilitation filed with the commissioner which meets the requirements of section 176.102, subdivision 4, or, if no plan has been filed, the employee refuses an offer of gainful employment that the employee can do in the employee's physical condition. Once temporary total disability compensation has ceased under this paragraph, it may not be recommenced.