In 2003, Jimmie McMasters (McMasters) was working as a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) journeyman when he fell nine feet from a beam to a concrete floor and suffered a compression fracture to his L1 vertebrae. In 2008, McMasters applied for permanent total disability benefits claiming a total disability under the “odd lot” doctrine. The Wyoming Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division (Division) denied the application.
The Division did not dispute that McMasters could not return to work as an HVAC journeyman but instead contended that his failure to obtain alternative employment was due to a preexisting psychological condition and a poor effort to find work. The Medical Commission agreed and upheld the denial of benefits. On appeal, the district court found the Commission’s decision to be supported by substantial evidence and affirmed.
We reverse. McMasters established a prima facie case under the odd lot doctrine when he showed he could not return to his former employment and the combination of his psychological and physical conditions precluded alternative employment. The burden thereafter shifted to the Division to show that light work of a special nature, which McMasters could perform, was available. The Division did not meet its burden.
In the eleven years before his work injury, McMasters worked primarily in construction. Four of those years were as an HVAC apprentice. After he completed his apprenticeship, he worked two years as an HVAC journeyman, which is the position he held when he suffered his work injury.
On April 17, 2003, McMasters was working for the Casper Tin Shop, installing duct work through a vaulted ceiling at the Childhood Development Center in Casper, Wyoming. The task required McMasters to stand and move about on two-inch wide trusses. He lost his footing and fell approximately nine feet to the concrete floor below, landing on his tailbone. McMasters was unable to get up and was taken by ambulance to the Wyoming Medical Center. What followed were years of treatment and evaluation by numerous medical providers and specialists, and ultimately McMasters’ application for permanent total disability benefits.
In early 2004, McMasters attempted to return to work for his employer, Casper Tin Shop, but his employer had not held his position. McMasters then went to work for Sheet Metal Specialties, another Casper company. On his first day back to work, McMasters aggravated his back injury carrying tools up a ladder. McMasters worked for two weeks before quitting due to back pain.
Read Complete Case Here: McMasters v. State of Wyoming
McMasters met his prima facie burden of establishing that he is unable to return to his former employment and that his work injury has combined with his psychological condition to render him permanently totally disabled under the odd lot doctrine. The Division presented no evidence of available employment that McMasters could perform. We reverse and remand to the district court for entry of an order remanding to the Commission for entry of an order awarding McMasters permanent total disability benefits.