Wife of disabled trucker with PTSD to be compensated for nursing services
September 27, 2019
A Missouri appeals court affirmed a decision awarding a trucker and his wife workers’ compensation after the driver suffered from PTSD as a result of a crash.
On Sept. 17, the Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City ruled that Wilcox Truck Line and its insurer, Accident Fund Insurance Co. should payout workers’ compensation benefits to Ronald Reynolds and his wife. The decision upholds a ruling made by the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission.
Wilcox argued that there was not enough evidence to prove Reynolds was permanently injured. Secondly, the company claims that Reynolds’ wife was merely providing services that are typical for a spouse. Therefore, the commission erred in compensating her for nursing services.
Crash causes mental illnesses
In July 2007, Reynolds was driving a regular route between Tennessee and Iowa on Interstate 35 for Wilcox, according to court documents. During his trip, Reynolds’ vehicle struck a concrete barrier, causing it to veer onto the other side of the road. The truck overturned and slid against the road on the passenger side.
Reynolds managed to kick out the window and escape before the truck caught fire and burned. After being transported to a hospital, medical providers determined that, in his extremely agitated state, he was a greater danger to himself within the hospital than at home, court documents reveal.
Following the incident, Reynolds began experiencing sleep disturbances. His sons had to force him into the family vehicle to seek treatment since Reynolds refused to enter a moving vehicle. He was officially diagnosed with acute stress disorder and later post traumatic stress disorder.
Witnessing crash triggers PTSD
Around October 2007, Reynolds was medically cleared for a trial period for trucking. One of the conditions involved a co-driver to Memphis. Slowly, he would graduate to occasional, unassisted trips before a full return to duty around May 2008.
During one of those unassisted trips, Reynolds witnessed a “bad accident,” according to court documents, triggering his PTSD.
Reynolds asked his wife to pick him up at his truck drop-off location. When she arrived, Reynolds’ wife was unable to get him out of the truck. With the assistance of another trucker, his wife forced him out. Reynolds has not returned to work since.
In November 2008, a neuropsychologist rated Reynolds’ PTSD as a permanent 10% partial disability. This effectively cleared him to return to work.
However, in November 2010, per the request of Reynolds’ counsel, Reynolds received a second opinion. This time, his PTSD was rated as permanently and totally disabled. The doctor said Reynolds was unable to engage in meaningful, gainful employment as a result of the PTSD.
Backing that claim, a vocational rehabilitation consultant determined that Reynolds would not be able to return to employment as a trucker. The consultant surmised that no employer would hire Reynolds due to his mental health problems that are on file.
Yet again, Reynolds underwent an evaluation from a different doctor for an employer-requested mental examination. The diagnoses included REM sleep behavior disorder, depression, chronic insomnia and PTSD.
In March 2011, Reynolds requested nursing services related to his injuries. The request was denied by the employer. His wife ended up reducing her work hours to care for Reynolds as his mental state was declining. Eventually, his wife had to leave her job to care for him full time. A nursing consultant confirmed that Reynolds needed 16-20 hours of daily home care for maintenance, safety and well-being.
Workers’ compensation case
After applying for workers’ compensation, a judge ruled that Reynolds was permanently disabled as if November 2014. However, Reynolds’ request for past nursing services performed by his wife was denied. The judge ruled that “the services she provides to Reynolds are primarily services ordinarily provided by a wife to a husband.”
Both parties asked the commission to review the case. In addition to affirming the finding of permanent disability from PTSD, the commission reversed the judge’s denial of nursing services. The commission found that Reynolds should be compensated for his wife’s past nursing services.
Wilcox appealed, arguing that Reynolds is capable of performing work on his farm. Furthermore, it contends that Reynolds has never sought employment outside of trucking. In other words, there is no evidence that Reynolds has been shut out of the entire open labor market.
Regarding farm work, the court found that Reynolds’ role on the family farm was extremely limited. As for the argument about seeking a job outside trucking, Wilcox seemed to have forgotten about one of the doctors’ official reports:
“In conclusion, it is my opinion that Reynolds has a total loss of access to the open competitive labor market and is totally vocationally disabled from employment. It is my opinion that there is no reasonable expectation that an employer, in the normal course of business, would hire Reynolds for any position, or that he would be able to perform the usual duties of any job that he has been or is qualified to perform.”
Wilcox’s second argument was doubling down on the notion that Reynolds’ wife was not technically providing nursing duties for his PTSD. In the commission’s reversal of the administrative law judge’s decision, it referred to the definition of “nursing” in applicable law, or the lack thereof.
More specifically, “nursing” is not defined within Chapter 287, which governs workers’ compensation in Missouri. In the absence of a legislative definition, courts must defer to a dictionary.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, “nursing” is defined as “the profession of a nurse” and “the varied activities that constitute the duties of a nurse.”
Furthermore, the previous version of Chapter 287 regarded “nursing” as the type of service rendered, not on the individual rendering the service. Although the revised statute eliminated that language, it did not add language to the contrary. Therefore, neither the dictionary definition nor the legislative language suggests nursing services require licensure or formal education.
Accordingly, the appeals courts upheld the commission’s ruling. Reynolds will receive workers’ compensation, including nursing services rendered by his wife.