Maine WC Appellate Division Rejects Petitions for Individual Permanent Impairment Raitings in the Face of a Prior Combined Rating

Maine Workers' Comp Alert

In Puiia v. NewPage Corp., an employee sustained respiratory injuries in 2001 and 2004, and a back/neck injury in 2005. In 2009, NewPage filed petitions to determine Permanent Impairment for all injuries. In a 2010 consent decree, the Board found the Permanent Impairment rating for the combined effects of all injuries was 19%. There was no determination of permanency for any individual injury.

Later, NewPage filed petitions to determine Permanent Impairment due to the 2001 and 2004 respiratory injuries. NewPage requested Permanent Impairment ratings for each respiratory injury because Permanent Impairment ratings had not been determined in the previous litigation. The administrative law judge (ALJ) denied the petitions, finding that the 2010 consent decree establishing a combined Permanent Impairment rating for the three injuries precluded separate determinations for the individual injuries under the doctrine of res judicata.

The Appellate Division affirmed. It held that the Law Court's recent decision in Bailey v. City of Lewiston, barred NewPage's petitions in this case. In Bailey, the Law Court held that a permanent impairment finding in a Decree cannot be modified in subsequent litigation. However, even if Bailey did not apply, res judicata barred NewPage's petitions. This is because, although the permanency rating for each injury was not decided in the 2010 decree, medical evidence at the time included impairment ratings for the individual injuries. In other words, individual ratings could have been established back in 2010, but they were not.