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Nevada Supreme Court Finds Claim Reopening Justified

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On June 6, 2013, the Nevada Supreme Court, in a 3-0 panel decision, ruled in favor of an injured UPS employee who was seeking to reopen his previously closed industrial injury claim. The case involving UPS employee, Joseph Williams, arose after Mr. Williams suffered an electrical shock and fell from a ladder. Following the incident, Mr. Williams was treated for his injuries and taken off work by his treating physician for the remainder of his shift.

UPS accepted the claim for injuries to his left ankle/foot, left lower leg and left hand, but failed to accept Williams’ lumbar spine as an injured body part despite medical reporting that his lower back had been injured. The employer subsequently closed Williams’ industrial injury claim. Two years after the claim was closed, Williams sought to reopen the claim for treatment of his lumbar spine. This request was rejected by UPS citing a lack of medical evidence.

Under Nevada’s reopening statute, an injured worker may not reopen a claim more than one year after claim closure if the injured worker was neither off work as a result of his injuries nor awarded a permanent partial disability rating. In holding that claim reopening was proper in Williams’ case, the court found that although Mr. Williams was only off work for a brief period following his original injury, the plain meaning of Nevada’s statute governing reopening of claims, NRS 616C.390(5), unambiguously provided for claim reopening after one year where the injured employee was taken off work for any amount of time.

In so holding, the Court rejected the appeals officer’s determination that the legislative intent was to require a worker to be off five days or more before claim reopening would be authorized. “When a statute is clear and unambiguous,” the Court noted, “we give effect to the plain and ordinary meaning of the words. . . In the absence of an ambiguity, we do not resort to other sources, such as legislative history, in ascertaining that statute’s meaning.”

This case illustrates the importance of closely reading governing statutes and closely scrutinizing determination letters denying important benefits due as part of your workers’ compensation claim. Employers, insurers and their claims administrators often misunderstand or misinterpret laws to the detriment of injured workers. If you or a loved one has suffered an on-the-job injury and have questions about worker’s compensation, please give us a call for a free consultation about your rights.

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