Supreme Court says man not equipped for other work, awards total disability

CHARLESTON – In a strongly worded Dec. 12 memorandum opinion, the unanimous state Supreme Court reversed the Workers’ Compensation Board of Review and awarded coal miner Charles W. Tilley permanent total disability.

Tilley had received several “compensable injuries” during his employment with Maple Meadow Mining Company and had been found to have 42 percent whole person medical impairment, according to the opinion.

The claims administrator denied Tilley’s request for permanent disability, noting that despite his limitations, Tilley had “demonstrated by past work experience he can learn by on the job training” and that there were several jobs, including coal mine guard, available within a 75-mile radius.

The Office of Judges reversed the court administrator’s decision, finding that Tilley’s “functional illiteracy, low IQ, and minimal education” made it difficult for Tilley to perform “light physical demand” jobs that were available within the company.

On Jan. 19, 2011, the Board of Review reversed the Office of Judges, reinstating the claims administrator’s denial of permanent disability.

The Board noted that Tilley had performed jobs in the past within the “medium and light physical demand levels, and he is currently capable of performing at the light physical demand level."

"Moreover, there are jobs he is capable of performing within a 75 mile radius,” it said.

The Supreme Court disagreed, writing, “In addition to Mr. Tilley’s functional limitations stemming from his compensable injuries, the Office of Judges also noted that Mr. Tilley’s limited intellectual functional ability, functional illiteracy, age, limited education, and lack of a GED all preclude vocational rehabilitation to return to substantial gainful activity.

“As a result, these limitations also prevent Mr. Tilley from returning to substantial gainful employment.

“(W)e find that the decision of the Board of Review is in clear violation of constitutional or statutory provision, it is clearly the result of erroneous conclusions of law, and it is so clearly wrong based upon the evidentiary record that when all inferences are resolved in favor of the board’s findings, reasoning, and conclusions, there is insufficient support to sustain the decision.

“Therefore, the Court reverses the Board of Review and grants the claimant a permanent total disability award with an onset date of October 12, 2007.”

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