In a unanimous ruling, the Nevada Supreme Court struck a blow advancing
workers’ rights when it ruled in favor of an injured worker who
sustained injuries in a truck crash. In Poremba v. S. Nev. Paving, 132
Nev. Adv. Op. 24, 369 P.3d 357, 358 (2016), the Court clarified an earlier
case where it had previously ruled that injured workers may not reopen
their claims until the exhaust all settlement funds on related medical expenses.
On July 22, 2005, William Poremba was at work, driving a truck when another
driver struck Poremba’s truck with his backhoe, causing serious
injuries. Poremba filed a workers' compensation claim, which was accepted
and eventually closed. Upon closure, Poremba received a letter from his
workers' compensation insurer with instructions on how to reopen the claim should his condition worsen.
After the claim closed, Poremba sued the backhoe driver and received a
settlement of $63,500, with a significant amount of that settlement paid
directly to cover health-care providers' liens. Poremba personally
received $34,631.51 and spent approximately $14,000 of the money he received
on additional medical treatment. Poremba claims to have spent the remaining
settlement money on personal living expenses, such as mortgage payments
and food for his family.
Poremba attempted to return to work, but he was unable to do so. Needing
additional compensation for his injuries, Poremba sought to reopen his
worker’s compensation claim, but the insurer denied his request
arguing that Poremba could not reopen his claim because he spent his settlement
funds on expenses other than medical costs related to his injuries.
On appeal, the Supreme Court closely examined NRS 616C.215(2) and found
that, while the statute does require worker’s compensation benefits
to be reduced by the amount of damages recovered, the statute did not
limit how an injured worker is required to exhaust those proceeds before
reopening his or her claim.
The Court reasoned that “[the insurer]'s position would give
it an “unjustified windfall” at [the claimant]'s expense.
Under [the insurer]'s interpretation, it would be entitled to share
in damages for which it has not provided and will never pay compensation.
We do not interpret these statutes to require such a fundamentally unjust
result. [The insurer] did not, and will never, compensate [the claimant]
for his pain and suffering, therefore it cannot be “reimbursed”
from funds designated to compensate him for his pain and suffering.”
The Court’s ruling confirmed that an injured worker is not required
to use up all his settlement funds on related medical expenses before
he or she can seek to reopen his industrial injury claim but, instead,
can use settlement funds for reasonable living expenses, medical treatment,
or as lost wage replacement.
This case demonstrates the complex interplay between Nevada’s statutory
worker’s compensation laws and the common law governing tort liability.
For over two decades, Shook & Stone has handled complex cases just
like this one. If you or a family member have suffered an on-the-job injury
as a result of someone else’s negligence, please
contact us. We are happy to help.