Nevada Supreme Court Strikes Blow in Favor of Injured Workers

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.

The Facts

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 employer’s 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.

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