The Ohio Supreme Court issued a decision in State ex rel. Rouan v. Indus. Comm., last month making it clear that employees who retire, and thereby remove themselves from the workforce, for reasons unrelated to their workers’ compensation claims are ineligible to receive Temporary Total Compensation. ("TTC").
Patricia Rouan, a social services inspector for Mahoning County, hurt her leg at work on May 24, 2004. She received Temporary Total Disability compensation benefits through May 15, 2005, at which time the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation ("BWC") terminated her benefits. On June 1, 2005, the BWC issued an order stating Rouan’s allowed conditions had reached maximum medical improvement ("MMI"). Rouan did not appeal the order.
In December of 2004, Rouan submitted an application for disability retirement to the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System ("OPERS"). Accompanying the application was a Report of Attending Physician, which listed the diagnosis as "Major Depressive Disorder" and stated the medical condition was "permanently disabling." OPERS approved Rouan’s application for disability retirement benefits on May 18, 2005, with a retroactive effective date of February 1, 2005. Rouan left the workforce shortly thereafter and has not worked since.
While Rouan was awaiting the OPERS decision, she filed a claim with the Industrial Commission ("Commission") requesting an additional allowance for a psychiatric condition. On July 18, 2005, after Rouan had already been approved for disability retirement benefits, the staff hearing officer ("SHO") denied the additional allowance. In 2007, Rouan filed an application for permanent and total disability ("PTD"). The Commission denied the application, finding "Rouan’s allowed conditions did not preclude sustained remunerative employment."
After successfully moving for the additional allowance of two arthritic knee conditions, Rouan renewed her request for TTC. The Commission denied TTC after finding that Rouan had "voluntarily abandoned the work force when she took disability retirement for a condition that was unrelated to her workplace injury." The Franklin County Court of Appeals agreed. Rouan filed an appeal in the Ohio Supreme Court.
The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals ruling, relying on its prior decisions in State ex rel. Corman v. Allied Holdings, Inc. and State ex rel. Pierron v. Indus. Comm.. The Court explained, "TTC compensates claimants ‘for the loss of earnings which he [or she] incurs while the injury heals.’ There ‘can be no lost earnings, however, or even a potential for lost earnings, if the claimant is no longer part of the active work force.’" The Court also held, "a claimant who retires for reasons unrelated to his or her injury cannot receive TTC since it is the claimant’s own action, not the industrial injury, that prevents a return to the former position of employment." There is no dispute, Rouan left the work force permanently based on a "major depressive disorder" which was specifically disallowed in her claim and unrelated to her workplace injury.
This decision reaffirms that a claimant who permanently abandons the work force for reasons unrelated to the workplace injury, even if they are medical reasons, cannot collect TTC.