January 5, 2015 Article

Maine Workers' Compensation Alert: Maine Supreme Court Upholds Hearing Officer's Decision to Suspend Workers' Compensation Benefits to Missing Employee

In Johnson v. Home Depot USA, Inc., 2014 ME 140 (December 11, 2014), the Law Court held that deference will be afforded to Workers' Compensation Board Hearing Officers to fashion appropriate remedies in unique circumstances. Fay Johnson disappeared in March 2012 while receiving workers’ compensation benefits per a decree. Following her disappearance, through service on her attorney, Home Depot filed Petitions requesting benefits be forfeited. A Hearing Officer found service appropriate and ordered benefits suspended until Ms. Johnson reappeared.

Her attorney appealed, arguing service was not in compliance with 39-A M.R.S.A. § 307(2) because Ms. Johnson did not personally receive the Petitions and that the Hearing Officer lacked authority to order Home Depot to hold benefits in a separate account or to allow it to suspend benefits due to her missing status. The Appellate Division affirmed.

The Maine Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the statutory requirement that petitions be served on other parties was complied with through service on Ms. Johnson’s attorney and that the Hearing Officer had the authority to direct Home Depot to pay benefits into a separate account pending a hearing and to ultimately suspend benefits. This “thoughtful and compassionate solution in light of these difficult circumstances" is not error.

For more information on this case or to learn more about Preti Flaherty's Workers' Compensation Group, contact any of our Workers' Compensation attorneys.

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