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Employee entitled to penalty



The Supreme Court of Alaska argued that a shellfish processor failed to pay an injured worker in his lasting partial deterioration and job allocation.

In UniSea Inc. v. De Lopez State High Court on Friday decided that the Alaska Workers Compensation Appeals Commission correctly assessed a penalty against UniSea, based in Redmond, Washington, to hold compensation for nearly three months after other employee's impairment rating.

Sofia Morales de Lopez worked as a fish sorter for UniSea at its Dutch port, Alaska, processing plant. In June 2013, she fell 15 meters from a platform to a concrete floor and suffered several fractures. She was co-accused to Anchorage before returning home to California, where she was in a rehabilitation facility for several months and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The day after her injury, UniSea began paying her temporary total disability as she continued until August 201

5. In November 2014, Mrs Morales was evaluated by a panel of doctors in Seattle – a neurologist, an orthopedist, and a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist believed that her work injury was the main cause of her psychiatric condition and that he did not believe her condition was medically stable. The other two doctors decided that her orthopedic problems were caused by the accident and assessed her as a permanent personal injury of 5%. In February 2015, UniSea continued to pay Morale's total temporary disability, but now she was only founded in her psychiatric condition.

In June 2015, Mrs Morales submitted her first compensation claim for employees seeking continued care and other benefits. UniSea acknowledged that she was entitled to continued TTD compensation and psychiatric care, but denied that she was entitled to continued physical care. UniSea planned a second psychiatric evaluation, but Mrs Morales did not participate and the company terminated TTD compensation.

In September, she submitted a compensation for continued medical expenses, continued TTD, penalties for UniSea's late payments, interest and legal fees. In November 2015, she participated in a second psychiatric evaluation, which gave her a 10% psychiatric impairment and which, in combination with 5% orthopedic impairment, gave her a 15% reduction in personal injury. UniSea then paid Ms Morales a work shift benefit and a partially permanent write-off compensation based on the 15% write-down value.

She claimed penalties and interest on the permanent need for write-down and sought the determination of Alaskan's Compensation Committee for invalidation of the choice of work shift benefits due to UniSea's delay in paying her the benefit.

The Board argued that no penalty was owed to the PPI remuneration and found that UniSea did not have a true "comprehensive assessment" until February 2016 and that there had been no undue delay in paying her employment offset benefits.

Ms. Morales appealed to the Commission. The Commission argued that UniSea failed to pay the equalization benefit and PPI. UniSea appealed.

The Supreme Court of Alaska confirmed the Commission's decision and noted that it had previously found that PPI compensation payments would be paid within 21 days of an employer receiving a PPI rating notice and imposing a penalty when an employer delayed all PPI compensation while seeking a credit statement instead of paying the undisputed allowance and contesting it.

Although UniSea claimed that "there was no true, final, completely personal PPI rating" until February 2016, the Court held that UniSea's two-month delay in clarifying a PPI rating from its own doctors was inexplicable and that the record showed that UniSea was aware already in November 2014 that it would have to pay Morales at least a $ 5,000 shift in workforce in addition to PPI compensation. The court argued that it was UniSea's reasoning, "there is no limit to how much time an employer can delay until a payment falls due after an initial rating".

As a result, the court held that the Commission correctly found that UniSea owed Morales a penalty on the PPI compensation and the work shift benefit.

The Court also confirmed the Commission's decision that UniSea should have paid the work shift benefit in connection with the orthopedic assessment when it received that rating. Alaska statutes stipulate that an employee who chooses a work shift benefit instead of employment benefits and who has received a PPI rating must be paid a sum based on PPI, and the court noted that the language does not mention that the grade must be "a final combined score". Because Ms. Morales had opted for the 2013 work shift benefit, the court found that UniSea was required to pay the corresponding benefit in November 2014.

The Court also claimed that Mrs Morales was entitled to interest on any PPI remuneration that was not paid in due time.

UniSea could not be reached for comment.


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