Daily Decisions: Varying Standards of Review of Workers’ Comp Decisions

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of thinking about Jorge Cantu’s injuries, mainly because he was on one of my fantasy baseball teams for about four seasons in a row a while back. Well, Jorge L. Cantu v. Department of Labor & Industries (Division 3, March 27, 2012) (published May 8, 2012), involves an injury to Jorge Cantu, but it’s not this Jorge Cantu:

Jorge Cantu

Unfortunately, this post has nothing to do with baseball. No, it’s about an injury a different Mr. Cantu suffered to his knee while working at WestFarm Foods back in 2004. He initially filed a claim with the Department of Labor and Industries about a month after his accident. Pursuant to that claim, and based on his leg injury, Cantu was awarded permanent partial disability payments from WestFarm.

But then, after that award became final, Cantu began suffering from back pain. At first, he thought it was unrelated, but it persisted and worsened. Eventually, his doctor determined that the pain was caused by a limp that Cantu had as the result of his injury. Cantu’s back pain caused him to suffer from a chronic pain disorder and major depressive disorder.

Because of these new manifestations of his injuries, Cantu moved to reopen his claim in the Department. The Department denied the request. He then appealed to the Board fo Industrial Insurance Appeals. The Board affirmed the denial. So he appealed to the Superior Court.

 The Superior Court ruled in Cantu’s favor and ordered that his claim be reopened. Of course, WestFarm appealed.

Disputes regarding standards of review dominated the appeal. Why? Well, since Cantu was the party who appealed the Board’s decision to the Superior Court, he got to challenge certain of the Board’s findings and conclusions in his appeal. As the respondent, WestFarm did not “appeal” the Board’s finding and so had no formal avenue through which to challenge any of the Board’s findings — findings that, if reversed by the trial court, might have made the affirmance of the Board’s decision more likely. After all, even in ruling against Cantu, the Board made findings of fact in Cantu’s favor. So the question is: Was the trial court required to accept any and all findings of fact that Cantu did not challenge on appeal? Or should have trial court have permitted WestFarm to challenge findings of fact that it viewed as unfavorable?

The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court should have given WestFarm an opportunity to challenge the Board’s findings of fact. By accepting as “a verity” those findings left unchallenged by Cantu, the trial court gave too much deference to the Board (and too little power to WestFarm).

However, after looking at the record as a whole, the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court’s error was harmless. Even had WestFarm challenged the various findings at issue, the trial court would have reached the same decision. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to reopen Cantu’s claim.

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One thought on “Daily Decisions: Varying Standards of Review of Workers’ Comp Decisions

  1. Pingback: [Tuesday] Monday [Afternoon] Morning Mash-up: May 15, 2012 | Ziff Blog

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