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New legislation could reopen previously denied workers’ comp claims

For an injured worker, Ohio’s workers’ compensation system can feel unfair. In recent years, tens of thousands of state fund claims have been filed annually. A significant number of these claims ultimately wind up disallowed or dismissed.

Historically, one of the more common reasons for denial of temporary total disability (TTD) benefits has been voluntary abandonment. A new law, however, opens the door for some injured workers – denied due to voluntary abandonment – to potentially reapply for benefits.

Understanding voluntary abandonment

Under Ohio law, TTD will pay partial wages to a worker who is injured on the job and unable to work while recovering. These payments are intended to make up for income that is lost due to the injury.

If an injured worker voluntarily abandons their job – by quitting, for example, or by getting fired for a rules violation – then they have no income. That means the worker is no longer losing out on income due to the injury. Therefore, they are no longer eligible to receive TTD partial wage benefits.

This concept of voluntary abandonment has broadened over the years, but not through legislation. Instead, a variety of court rulings have shaped how employers can use voluntary abandonment when trying to avoid these TTD benefits.

Lawmakers have finally stepped in.

Voluntary abandonment – nullification codified

In June of 2020, Ohio’s governor signed a landmark workers’ compensation bill into law. Among the many changes, this new statute codifies the nullification of voluntary abandonment.

Maybe more importantly, it nullifies the voluntary abandonment doctrine that had been at the mercy of the courts for so long. That’s because the new language supersedes any previous judicial decisions on the topic.

What does this mean for injured workers?

Individuals whose temporary disability workers’ compensation claims were denied on the basis of voluntary abandonment may have an opportunity to reopen their case. If an employer successfully argued you voluntarily abandoned your job and subsequently denied your TTD benefits, you might be eligible to reapply.

This is a complex area of the law. Employers will almost certainly continue to be aggressive in trying to reduce their liability and limit claims they must pay. At the Philip J. Fulton Law Office, we can help determine whether a previously denied workers’ comp claim might have a second life under this new law.

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