HAWSCT Clarifies When An "Accident" Occurs In Service-Connected Disability Retirement Statute
by Robert Thomas, InverseCondemnation, May 22, 2018
A slight detour from our usual fare, to note a decision from a closely-divided Hawaii Supreme Court in a case about when a State employee is eligible for service-connected disability retirement benefits under the State Employees' Retirement System. In Pasco v. Board of Trustees of the Employee Retirement System, No. SCWC-13-3629 (May 22, 2018), the court, in a majority opinion by Justice Sabrina McKenna, concluded that a State of Hawaii employee was disabled as the result of an on-the-job accident, and was therefore eligible for disability benefits.
The reason we're posting this 3-2 case (majority opinion here, dissenting opinion here) is that we find close cases like this fascinating, and we represent the prevailing employee. While employment law isn't our usual area of operations, we handle appeals in just about any area of law, and for this one -- argued back in February 2017 -- we delved into the question of how the ERS statute defines "accident," and how that definition applies in situations where an injury manifests at a specific time, but the employee may not be able to show exactly the moment it occurred. As the majority opinion concluded:
The ICA correctly held that Panado informs the analysis of Pasco’s case. Although Pasco’s injury has been characterized as a “cumulative or repetitive stress” injury, as we stated in Panado, the fact that Pasco’s “onset of pain did not occur immediately” does not mean it was not “the natural and proximate result of an accident occurring while in the actual performance of duty at some definite time and place.” Although Pasco cannot point to the exact keystroke that caused her to exceed her physiological capacity, the injury occurred “while in the actual performance of duty,” during her workshift. The “untoward event” manifested as pain at a “definite time and place” on April 17, 2007. Even if the pain had manifested the day after a workshift, however, as discussed in Panado, that Pasco’s injury manifested as arm pain at some time after the moment she exceeded her physiological capacity to perform repetitive work does not mean that her accident did not occur “while in the actual performance of duty at some definite time and place.” 134 Hawaiʻi at 14-15, 332 P.3d at 157-58.
Slip op. at 27-28.
Because we're counsel in the case we won't go into more detail, but will leave it to you to read both the majority and dissenting opinions.
Back to our usual fare tomorrow.
PDF: Pasco v. Bd of Trustees of the Employee Retirement System, No. SCWC-13-0003629 (Haw. May 22, 2018)