Ohio Supreme Court Limits Injured Workers’ Vision Loss Compensation – Traumatic Cataracts and Surgical Lens Replacement
In a line of cases involving the surgical replacement of a natural lens or cornea due to a workplace injury, the Ohio Supreme Court consistently held that the injured worker was entitled to compensation under R.C. 4123.57(B) for total loss of vision. See, State ex rel. Kroger v. Stover (1987), 31 Ohio St.3d 229; State ex rel. Gen. Elec. Corp. v. Indus. Comm., 103 Ohio St.3d 420; State ex rel. AutoZone, 117 Ohio St.3d 186. See also, State ex rel. Parsec, Inc., v Agin, 155 Ohio App.3d 303. In such cases, the court found that “loss of uncorrected vision” as used in R.C. 4123.57(B) meant loss of vision prior to correction by the surgical replacement of a natural lens or cornea. Thus, injured workers were always entitled to a total vision loss award in any case where the natural lens or cornea was replaced. In each of those cases, however, the total vision loss existed prior to the transplant procedures. Breaking with the precedent established in the above line of cases, the court used this distinction to deny total vision loss in State ex rel. Baker v. Coast to Coast Manpower, LLC, 2011-Ohio-2721, decided June 9, 2011.
In the Baker case, the injured worker Baker was struck in the right eye by a piece of metal and subsequently developed a traumatic cataract necessitating surgical replacement of the natural lens. Baker filed a motion with the BWC for loss of vision of the right eye under R.C. 4123.57(B) based on the cataract surgery in which his natural lens was removed and replaced by an implant. However, prior to the surgery Baker’s loss of uncorrected vision was 20/25, and after the surgery his vision returned to 20/25, which equated to an eight percent of uncorrected vision and less that the minimum twenty-five percent uncorrected vision loss required for any loss of vision award under R.C. 4123.57(B). The Industrial Commission denied Baker’s motion and found that Baker had sustained only an eight percent loss of vision. Baker filed a complaint in the Tenth District Court of Appeals for a writ of mandamus ordering the Industrial Commission to grant his request for compensation for a total loss of vision.
The court held that since Baker’s uncorrected loss of vision never reached the minimum twenty-five percent prior to the lens replacement surgery or after the surgery, he did not qualify for any vision loss award. The court rejected Baker’s argument that the removal of the natural lens results in the loss of sight. The court stated that this bright line approach disregards the plain language of R.C. 4123.57(B) which requires a loss of sight of an eye for the employee to be entitled to compensation.
A forceful dissenting opinion was written by Justice McGee Brown noting that the court was breaking with precedent and ignoring the court’s prior holdings in which lens replacement surgery was considered “corrective” rather than “restorative” thereby entitling the injured worker to the vision loss award. Justice McGee Brown further correctly noted that had Baker delayed his surgery until his natural lens became opaque and obscured his sight, then he would have qualified for the total vision loss award under the majority’s analysis thus creating an incentive for injured workers to delay necessary medical treatment.
This is an unfortunate decision for injured workers who require lens replacement surgery who must now presumably wait until the vision loss progresses to a total vision loss to qualify for a vision loss award. For a 2011 claim this award is $97,875.00.