Cain v. Waste Management, Inc.

Decision Date23 January 2002
Docket NumberDocket No. Calendar No. 7.,Docket No. 116389,Docket No. 116953,Docket No. 116945
Citation638 N.W.2d 98,465 Mich. 509
PartiesScott M. CAIN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. WASTE MANAGEMENT, INC. and Transportation Insurance Company, Defendants-Appellants. Scott M. Cain, Plaintiff-Appellee, Cross-Appellant, v. Waste Management, Inc. and Transportation Insurance Company, Defendants-Appellees, and Second Injury Fund (Total and Permanent Disability Provision), Defendant-Appellant, Cross-Appellee. Scott M. Cain, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Waste Management, Inc. and Transportation Insurance Company, Defendants-Appellants, and Second Injury Fund (Total and Permanent Disability Provision), Defendant-Appellee.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

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

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

Jennifer M. Granholm, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, and Ray W. Cardew, Jr., and Mitchell J. Wood, Assistant Attorneys General, Lansing, MI, for defendant Second Injury Fund.

Libner, VanLeuven, Evans & Portenga, P.C. (by John A. Braden), Muskegon, MI, for amici curiae Worker's Compensation Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, supporting the employee.

Gerald M. Marcinkoski, Birmingham, MI, for amici curiae Worker's Compensation Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, supporting the employer and insurers.

TAYLOR, J.

The issue in this case concerns the proper standard for determining whether an injured employee is entitled to collect worker's compensation benefits for total and permanent disability pursuant to M.C.L. § 418.361(3)(g).1 Specifically, the question is whether such a person's injured limb or member should be evaluated in its "corrected" or "uncorrected" state. The Worker's Compensation Appellate Commission (WCAC) held that a "corrected standard" should be applied, whereas the Court of Appeals held that an "uncorrected standard" was applicable.

In keeping with prior decisions of this Court, and for the reasons set forth below, we reverse in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals and hold that § 361(3)(g) envisions that a "corrected" standard be applied.

I

We begin by noting that this case involves a fairly uncommon kind of claim for worker's compensation benefits. The worker's compensation act provides, if certain conditions are met, for payments to workers who are injured or become disabled on the job. MCL 418.101 et seq. The most common situation is controlled by the general disability provision. MCL 418.301(1) provides that an employee, who receives a personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment for an employer who is subject to this act at the time of the injury, shall be paid compensation as provided in this act. If such a showing is made, one must then determine if the disability is total or partial. Payment formulas are set by statute.

In addition to these more common claims for disability benefits, the act provides compensation for the loss of certain body parts. These are known as "scheduled" disabilities. MCL 418.361(2). For example, if a worker loses his foot at work he is given payments for 162 weeks. Loss of an arm results in payments for 269 weeks. These are known as "specific loss" benefits.

If a worker suffers from certain enumerated injuries, such as loss of both hands or both feet, he may be entitled to benefits for total and permanent disability, as defined by M.C.L. § 418.361(3). As explained more fully hereinafter, such total and permanent disability benefits are a type of scheduled benefit, but they are distinct from the scheduled specific loss benefits. Total and permanent disability benefits are intended for those who sustain the more catastrophic loss of more than one member.

"Loss of industrial use" is a special category of total and permanent disability benefits found in M.C.L. § 418.361(3)(g). This category allows recovery for total and permanent disability where there is no anatomical loss, but where there is a loss of industrial use. Hence, for example, even if an employee does not suffer actual amputation of one or both legs so as to qualify for specific loss benefits, he may nevertheless be entitled to scheduled benefits for injury to both legs if he has lost the "industrial use" of his legs. In this way the "loss of industrial use" category of total and permanent benefits differs from other total and permanent categories.2

The case at bar involves this distinctive "loss of industrial use" kind of total and permanent disability claim.

II

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.

III

In August 1992, Cain filed a petition with the Bureau of Worker's Compensation, seeking total and permanent disability benefits, which stated:

My legs were crushed in a motor vehicle accident resulting in an amputation above the knee of my right leg. The severity of my injuries to my left leg result [sic] in the industrial loss of use of both legs. I am, therefore, entitled to permanent and total disability benefits.

At the end of the second day of the hearing, Mr. Cain moved to amend his petition to include a claim for the specific loss of his left leg. The magistrate denied the motion. Less than a week later, Mr. Cain filed a petition requesting benefits for the specific loss of the left leg:

In addition to my initial application, I am claiming specific loss of my left lower extremity for dates of injury of 10/25/88 and 10/21/90. On 10/21/90, while walking down a ramp at home, I refractured my left tibia causing it to become necessary for me to wear a permanent brace on my left leg.

In December 1993, the magistrate awarded specific loss benefits (to be paid consecutively) for the loss of both legs. Although he had denied the motion to add a claim for the specific loss of the left leg, the magistrate nonetheless awarded the benefits, reasoning that Mr. Cain's assertion of the loss of the industrial use of both legs implicitly included a claim for the specific loss of the left leg.

The magistrate found that the left leg had been effectively lost in October 1990, when the stress fracture occurred and "any hope of restoring the member was abandoned."

The condition of the Plaintiff's left leg subsequent to 10/21/90 appears to be tantamount to amputation. He cannot support himself without the brace which was fashioned for him. The Plaintiff is in effect wearing a prosthetic device on the left leg.

Thus, he ruled that the Second Injury Fund would be obligated to pay benefits for total and permanent disability because Mr. Cain had lost the industrial use of both legs.3 Waste Management and its insurer appealed to the WCAC, which reversed the judgment of the magistrate in April 1997. The WCAC ruled that, in light of the phrasing of Mr. Cain's initial petition to the bureau, the magistrate had erred in awarding benefits for the specific loss of the left leg. The WCAC also held that the magistrate had committed legal error in his analysis of the total and permanent disability claim, since he had failed to use a "corrected" standard to examine the remaining usefulness of Mr. Cain's braced leg. Applying such a standard, the WCAC concluded that Mr. Cain is not totally and permanently disabled.

In May 2000, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings.4 The Court of Appeals affirmed the WCAC's denial of specific loss benefits, agreeing that Mr. Cain's petition did not state a claim for such benefits. However, the Court of Appeals reversed and vacated with regard to the finding of total and permanent disability, stating:

We reverse that portion of the WCAC's decision which holds that a claim for [total and permanent] disability benefits must be analyzed under the corrected test. While use of the corrected test is mandated in vision cases, [Hakala v. Burroughs Corp. (After Remand), 417 Mich. 359, 338 N.W.2d 165 (1983) ], and has been expanded to cases involving implants, [O'Connor v. Binney Auto Parts, 203 Mich.App. 522, 513 N.W.2d 818 (1994) ], its use has not been extended to cases involving prosthetics or braces. In the instant case, plaintiff wears a prosthetic right leg and a brace on his left leg. The brace is not permanently attached to plaintiff's leg. In holding that use of the corrected test was required in this case, the WCAC read Hakala, supra, and O'Connor, supra, too broadly.

The issue whether a claimant has suffered loss of industrial use is one of fact. Pipe v. Leese Tool & Die Co., 410 Mich. 510, 527, 302 N.W.2d 526 (1981). We hold that the WCAC exceeded its...

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6 cases
  • Cain v. Waste Management, Inc.
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • May 3, 2005
    ...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 Plaintiff Scott M. Cain worked as a truck dri......
  • Omer v. Steel Techs., Inc.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • April 16, 2020
    ...is entitled to receive. This, in turn, depends on whether the claimant's disability is total or partial.3 See Cain v. Waste Mgt., Inc. , 465 Mich. 509, 511, 638 N.W.2d 98 (2002) (explaining that once a disabled claimant establishes entitlement to compensation under the act, "one must then d......
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    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • January 23, 2002
  • Cain v. WASTE MANAGEMENT INC., Docket No. 242104
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • January 22, 2004
    ...benefits on the basis of its finding that plaintiff suffered the specific loss of his left leg. After reviewing the decision in Cain v. Waste Mgt., Inc.,1 we find that our Supreme Court did not overrule or abrogate its previous decision in Pipe v. Leese Tool & Die Co. 2 In Pipe , the Cour......
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