Employer Not Allowed to Stop Paying Permanent Total Disability Benefits until Former Employee Submitted to New Medical Exam To Show Whether He Could Work Again

In SSM Healthcare v. Hartgrove nurse Hartgrove had injured her back so badly while lifting a patient in 2001 that an administrative law judge awarded her lifetime permanent total disability in 2004. After paying her weekly workers’ compensation disability benefits for her permanent total disability for ten years, at the beginning of 2014 SSM decided that Ms. Hartgrove was doing so much better that she could go back to work and thus should get her weekly benefit payments stopped. SSM notified Hartgrove that if she didn’t submit to a new medical examination by a doctor of their choice they would cut off her permanent disability benefits on their own. She refused to submit to such an exam, so SSM suspended her weekly lifetime benefits that had been awarded her. She challenged that decision by filing a motion to compel continuation of payments with the Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation.

Missouri’s Labor & Industrial Relations Commission, as affirmed by the Missouri Court of Appeals, found that employer SSM had no authority under the Missouri Workmens Compensation Law to terminate her lifetime benefits on its own. It ruled that if SSM felt that its former employee nurse Hartgrove was somehow able to work once again due to a change in her medical condition entitling them to terminate the lifetime weekly permanent total disability benefits a judge had awarded her ten years earlier, the proper way for them to have done it would have been to file a motion with the Commission to modify an existing award based on a change in her condition.

Thus the employer can not force its former employee who has been receiving lifetime weekly benefits to submit to a new medical examination to help prove it. If the employer wants to stop paying the former employee’s benefits it pretty well better have some solid facts showing enough improvement in their condition to allow them to once again work to earn a living before it files a motion for terminating their benefits.

Even once the employer files a motion to reopen a case based on its belief that the employee had experienced a change in their condition which would allow them to once again work a regular paid job, it does not seem at all certain that the employer could legally force the employee to submit to a reexamination. The reason is that such an examination would be for the purpose of determining whether the former employee could once again work in the open labor market due to a change in their condition rather than for the purpose of giving them further medical treatment.

St. Louis Workers Compensation Center can defend and demand your rights to workmens compensation benefits. They can fight to legally enforce these rights. They can prevent the company from cancelling or underpaying your benefits. Please call us for advice and assistance on any work-related injury suffered on the job in St. Louis County, the City of St. Louis, St. Charles County, Jefferson County, Lincoln County, Warren County, Franklin County, or any other counties in eastern Missouri within 100 miles of the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. Our consultations are completely free of charge. Tom Hyatt will talk to you about your case right away. He will fight as hard he can to enforce all of your rights to Missouri workers compensation benefits. Our attorney’s fee would be a modest percentage of the Missouri workers’ comp disability benefits we get for you. Please call now for a free consultation. (See Contact Us).

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