Cain v. Waste Management, Inc.

Decision Date03 May 2005
Docket NumberDocket No. 125111,Docket No. 125180. Calendar No. 3.
Citation697 N.W.2d 130,472 Mich. 236
PartiesScott M. CAIN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. WASTE MANAGEMENT, INC. and Transportation Insurance Co., Defendants-Appellants, and Second Injury Fund, Defendant-Appellee. Scott M. Cain, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Waste Management, Inc. and Transportation Insurance Co., Defendants-Appellees, and Second Injury Fund, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Pinsky, Smith, Fayette & Hulswit, L.L.P. (by Edward M. Smith and Pamela K. Bratt), Grand Rapids, MI, for the plaintiff.

Michael A. Cox, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, Ray W. Cardew, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, and Gerald M. Marcinkoski, Special Assistant Attorney General, Birmingham, MI, for the Second Injury Fund.

Straub, Seaman & Allen, P.C. (by Daniel W. Grow and James M. Straub), St. Joseph, MI, for Waste Management, Inc. and Transportation Insurance Company.

Martin L. Critchell, Detroit, MI, for amici curiae Ford Motor Company. Daryl Royal, Dearborn, MI, for amici curiae Michigan Trial Lawyers Association.

AFTER REMAND

TAYLOR C.J.

At issue in this worker's compensation case is whether a worker must suffer an actual amputation of a limb or body part in order to qualify for either specific loss benefits (also described as scheduled loss benefits) or total and permanent disability benefits. We hold that specific loss benefits under MCL 418.361(2) do not require an amputation. It is sufficient to qualify for such benefits if the limb or body part has lost its usefulness. Regarding total and permanent disability benefits under MCL 418.361(3)(b), which covers the loss of both legs, as with specific loss, if the legs have lost their usefulness, even though not amputated, the worker qualifies for total and permanent disability benefits. We therefore affirm the decisions of the Court of Appeals and the Worker's Compensation Appellate Commission (WCAC).

BACKGROUND

This case was previously before us in Cain v. Waste Mgt., Inc., 465 Mich. 509, 513, 638 N.W.2d 98 (2002) (Cain I), where we summarized the facts describing plaintiff's injuries as follows:

Plaintiff Scott M. Cain worked as a truck driver and trash collector for defendant, Waste Management, Inc. In October 1988, as he was standing behind his vehicle emptying a rubbish container, he was struck by an automobile that crashed into the back of the truck. Mr. Cain's legs were crushed. Physicians amputated Mr. Cain's right leg above the knee. His left leg was saved with extensive surgery and bracing.
In February 1990, Mr. Cain was fitted with a right leg prosthesis, and he was able to begin walking. He returned to his employment at Waste Management and started performing clerical duties.
Mr. Cain's left leg continued to deteriorate. In October 1990, he suffered a distal tibia fracture. Doctors diagnosed it as a stress fracture caused by preexisting weakness from the injury sustained in the accident. After extensive physical therapy and further surgery on his left knee, Mr. Cain was able to return to Waste Management in August 1991, first working as a dispatcher and then in the sales department.
Waste Management voluntarily paid Mr. Cain 215 weeks of worker's compensation benefits for the specific loss of his right leg. MCL 418.361(2)(k). However, there was disagreement concerning whether he was entitled to additional benefits.

To understand the benefits that are at issue, it is necessary to review several sections of the Worker's Disability Compensation Act (WDCA), MCL 418.101 et seq. Specific loss benefits are payable under MCL 418.361(2)(k) to an employee "for the loss of" a leg.1 Total and permanent disability benefits are payable "[w]hile the incapacity for work resulting from a personal injury is total," MCL 418.351(1), and MCL 418.361(3) defines what "total and permanent disability" means.2 Of particular relevance here are two of the definitions of total and permanent disability found in MCL 418.361(3)(b), "Loss of both legs or both feet at or above the ankle," and MCL 418.361(3)(g), "Permanent and total loss of industrial use of both legs or both hands or both arms or 1 leg and 1 arm...."

In Cain I, we determined that because Mr. Cain had a brace on his left leg that enabled him to return to work, he had not lost industrial use of both legs, as required by MCL 418.361(3)(g).3 We noted there is a difference between specific loss and loss of industrial use, and we "adopt[ed] as our own" the analysis of the WCAC in its April 1997 opinion. Cain I, supra at 521, 638 N.W.2d 98. In accord with that analysis, we held that the "corrected" standard applies to claims for permanent and total loss of industrial use under MCL 418.361(3)(g), and we remanded to the WCAC "to consider plaintiff's specific loss claim." Cain I, supra at 524, 638 N.W.2d 98. On remand, the WCAC determined actual amputation is unnecessary to qualify for specific loss benefits and, because plaintiff's leg is essentially useless, his injury "equated with anatomical loss." The WCAC cited as authority Hutsko v. Chrysler Corp., 381 Mich. 99, 158 N.W.2d 874 (1968), and Tew v. Hillsdale Tool & Mfg. Co., 142 Mich.App. 29, 369 N.W.2d 254 (1985). Both are cases in which specific loss claims were allowed where there had been a loss of use, but not an anatomical loss. The WCAC then concluded without further explanation that "[h]aving shown specific loss of each leg, plaintiff is entitled to total and permanent disability benefits." On appeal, the Court of Appeals majority, citing Pipe v. Leese Tool & Die Co., 410 Mich. 510, 302 N.W.2d 526 (1981), affirmed the decision of the WCAC. 259 Mich.App. 350, 674 N.W.2d 383 (2003). It concluded that each of plaintiff's legs qualified for specific loss benefits (one through amputation and one through lost industrial use), and that these losses, when considered together, equaled a "loss of both legs" under MCL 418.361(3)(b), thus entitling plaintiff to total and permanent disability benefits.

Both the defendant employer and the Second Injury Fund sought leave to appeal. We granted both applications for leave, ordering the appeals to be argued and submitted together. 470 Mich. 870, 682 N.W.2d 84 (2004). We directed the parties in both appeals to include among the issues to be briefed whether the "loss of industrial use" standard may be applied to claims of specific loss under MCL 418.361(2) and whether Pipe, supra, should be overruled. We further directed the parties in Docket No. 125180 to address the issues whether the WCAC exceeded the scope of this Court's remand order by awarding plaintiff total and permanent disability benefits and whether total and permanent disability benefits under MCL 418.361(3)(b)(loss of both legs) may be awarded on the basis of plaintiff's specific (anatomical) loss of one leg and his specific (industrial use) loss of the other leg.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review de novo questions of law in worker's compensation cases. Mudel v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 462 Mich. 691, 697 n. 3, 614 N.W.2d 607 (2000). Entitlement to worker's compensation benefits must be determined by reference to the statutory language creating those benefits. Nulf v. Browne Morse Co., 402 Mich. 309, 312, 262 N.W.2d 664 (1978). As we have noted in the past, when we construe a statute, our primary goal is to give effect to the intent of the Legislature and our first step in that process is to review the language of the statute itself. In re MCI Telecom Complaint, 460 Mich. 396, 411, 596 N.W.2d 164 (1999). The Legislature has specified the proper approach to construing statutory language, saying in MCL 8.3a:

All words and phrases shall be construed and understood according to the common and approved usage of the language; but technical words and phrases, and such as may have acquired a peculiar and appropriate meaning in the law, shall be construed and understood according to such peculiar and appropriate meaning.4

ANALYSIS: SPECIFIC LOSS

We turn first to the question of specific loss and therefore focus our analysis on MCL 418.361(2). The loss provision of this section repeatedly has been held to be intended to compensate workers who have suffered one of the losses enumerated in this provision, regardless of the effect on the worker's earning capacity.5Cain I, supra at 524, 638 N.W.2d 98; Redfern v. Sparks-Withington Co., 403 Mich. 63, 80-81, 268 N.W.2d 28 (1978). This means if a worker, for example, loses an arm, thumb, finger, leg, or so on in a workplace injury, specific loss benefits, as set forth in the schedule, will be awarded even if no time is missed from work. At issue here is whether a limb (here, a leg), crushed but not severed, is to be treated as lost, thus entitling the injured worker to specific loss benefits.

Defendants argue that the word "loss" unambiguously means "amputation," especially in the context of § 361(2)(k), which expressly mentions amputation. As they argue it, amputation is required because MCL 418.361(2)(k) provides benefits for the loss of a leg by stating:

Leg, 215 weeks.
An amputation between the knee and foot 7 or more inches below the tibial table (plateau) shall be considered a foot, and an amputation above that point shall be considered a leg.

Thus, defendants assert that the amputation language, at least regarding legs, limits the word "loss" in the statute to mean that only amputations are compensable.

Plaintiff, on the other hand, while agreeing that the statute is unambiguous, argues that defendants' approach is flawed because it disregards the original meaning of the specific loss provisions when the WDCA was enacted almost a century ago in favor of a modern perception of the word's meaning. The original meaning, plaintiff asserts, is controlling because, although the statute has been amended many times since its enactment in 1912, the word "loss" has remained unchanged and without express qualifications or...

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