District of Columbia
In Hughes-Turner v. D.C. Dep't of Employment Services, et al., 20-AA-232 (D.C. July 14, 2022), a dispute arose as to whether D.C. Code § 32-1505(b) limited a workers’ compensation applicant’s ability to receive further disability benefits. The Compensation Review Board (“CRB”) concluded that section 32-1505(b) precluded the applicant from receiving more than an aggregate total of 500 weeks of temporary total benefits and “non-schedule” permanent-partial benefits. The applicant appealed.
Section 32-1505(b) provides that, for any one injury causing temporary or permanent partial disability, the payment for disability benefits shall not continue for more than a total of 500 weeks.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals explained that it previously held in Eason v. D.C. Dep't of Empl. Servs., 126 A.3d 1137, 2015 D.C. App. LEXIS 536 (D.C. November 25, 2015) that section 32-1505(b) was ambiguous and that the CRB had reasonably concluded that the 500-week cap in the section applies to temporary total benefits. However, the question, in this case, was different. The issue was whether the 500-week cap applied individually to each type of benefits to which the cap applies, or, if the 500-week cap applied in the aggregate, such that a claimant could get no more than 500 weeks of all benefits subject to the cap. The Court examined the language of the provision, an ambiguity in the legislative history of the enactment of the statute, and considered the principle that workers’ compensation statutes should be liberally construed to achieve their humanitarian purpose. Ultimately, the Court held that section 32-1505(b) was ambiguous as to whether the 500-week cap applies in the aggregate or applies separately to each type of benefit.
The Court reversed the CRB’S decision that the 500-week cap applied in the aggregate. The CRB’s interpretation relied heavily on the view that the stated purpose of the legislation was to create an aggregate cap more in line with the Maryland and Virginia caps. However, Maryland and Virginia took different approaches to the issue of aggregation at the time the statute was enacted. Additionally, the CRB’s analysis was brief and did not consider the principle that workers’ compensation statutes should be liberally construed to achieve their humanitarian purpose.
The Court reversed and remanded the case for the CRB to more fully consider and explain its interpretation of section 32-1505(b).