Wyoming Court: Use Only Worker’s Income in Figuring Comp Benefits

By | June 5, 2008

The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that the state Workers’ Compensation Division erred when it denied a worker benefits because it included his wife’s income in calculating the “household income” attributable to an employee under state statute.

According to State of Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division v. Richard A. Johnson, Johnson, an oil rig worker, was injured on the job in 1984 and determined to be permanently and totally disabled in 1993. He applied for extended PTD benefits and received those benefits through August 2005, when the division denied his application for extended PTD benfits on the basis that his “combined household income exceeded [his] combined household expenses[.]”

The law on extended PTD benefits at the time stipulated that PTD benefits should be paid in full, subject to limitations, including that the “hearing examiner in determining entitlement … consider income of the employee from al sources including active or passive income, household income and any monthly amount from any other governmental agency,” court documents indicate.

The examiner in Johnson’s case clearly considered his wife’s income when determining the eligibility for benefits. Yet Johnson believed the phrase “income of the employee” restricted the types of income listed, including household income, to just his income.

The Office of Administrative Hearings held an evidentiary hearing in June 2006, and upheld the division’s deny of benefits. Johnson appealed for judicial review, and the district court reversed the OAH decision in April 2007. The Supreme Court then considered the issue.

“The necessary inference is that the income of other household members has always been excluded from consideration,” the high court wrote, after evaluating the case. The Supreme Court corrected the Division’s error of law, affirmed the district court’s order reversing the decision of the hearing officer, and remanded the case for a new decision.

For more information, visit http://courts.state.wy.us/Opinions/2008WY59.pdf.

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