Sweasy v. Wal-Mart, 2009-SC-000219-WC, (Ky. 2009). Holding that the compensable period for partial disability begins on the date that impairment and disability arise, without regard to the date of MMI, the worker’s disability rating, or the compensable period’s duration.

The issue on appeal in Sweasy was whether the language of KRS 342.730(1)(d) created a choice for when PPD benefits in a 425 week award commenced. In Sweasy, the ALJ awarded benefits to commence from the time Sweasy reached maximum medical improvement, not from the date of injury.

KRS 342.730(1)(d), the statutory provision at issue, states as follows:

For permanent partial disability, if an employee has a permanent disability rating of fifty percent (50%) or less as a result of a work-related injury, the Compensable permanent partial disability period shall be four hundred twenty-five (425) weeks, and if the permanent disability rating, is greater than fifty percent (50%), the compensable permanent partial disability period shall be five hundred twenty (520) weeks from the date the impairment or disability exceeding fifty percent (50%) arises.

The Workers’ Compensation Board reversed the ALJ’s determination, holding that the benefits should commence from the date of injury. The Court of Appeals reversed the Board and reinstated the ALJ’s determination, interpreting KRS 342.730(1) (d) to mean that an award based on a disability rating of fifty percent or less (a 425 week award) “may or may not begin” when the impairment or disability from an injury arises.

The Court of Appeals interpreted this language to mean that in the case of a 520 week award the benefits would commence as of the date of injury, but in the case of a 425 week award the language failed to specify when that period of disability commences, thus leaving it up to the ALJ to decide when the award would begin.

On appeal, Sweasy alleged her disability began at the time of her injury and argued there was no justification for the Court of Appeals’ interpretation of KRS 342.730(1)(d).

The Supreme Court agreed with Sweasy, reversing the Court of Appeals. The Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ interpreting KRS 342.730(1)(3) to allow for benefits to commence from the date of injury for an award of 520 weeks, but not an award of 425 weeks (as in the case of Sweasy).

After discussing precedent relative to statutory construction and examining the underlying policy of the workers’ compensation statute, the Supreme Court considered the Court of Appeals interpretation and held that the “legislature intended no such absurdity,” and that the compensable period for partial disability begins on the date that impairment and disability arise, without regard to the date of MMI, the worker’s disability rating, or the compensable period’s duration.”

All justices concurred.

COMMENTARY: The Supreme Court made the correct decision in this claim, although it may have been a bit harsh characterizing the Court of Appeals’ interpretation as an absurdity. This is the second Kentucky decision of 2009 involving a reviewing court’s analysis of a statutory provision resulting in a rejection of plain meaning and the statute’s traditional application. In March of 2009, it was the Supreme Court, not the Court of Appeals, who in Chrysallis House v. Tackett, 2008-SC-000221-WC (Ky. 2009), rendered a rather controversial decision relative to the application of benefit enhancements under KRS 342.730 effectively creating an exception to the phrase “with or without cause” where none had previously existed. This case is discussed in further depth at Roland Legal’s blog OUCH!

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