Bell v. Indus. Comm’n of Ariz. (1/30/2015)

February 12, 2015

Arizona Supreme Court holds that under A.R.S. § 23-1062(B) an injured worker seeking compensation for any type of disability must prove seven consecutive calendar days of some type of work-related disability.

Linda Bell was injured at her job.  She continued working, but missed work intermittently over the next seventeen months to attend medical appointments and receive treatment.  She used sick leave and vacation time to avoid loss of income.  In July 2011, she underwent surgery for her injury and thereafter was off work for several months.  Bell requested a hearing before the Industrial Commission of Arizona (“ICA”) on whether she was entitled to temporary partial disability compensation to reimburse her for the sick and vacation time she had used in the seventeen months following her injury.  The administrative law judge ruled that Bell was not entitled to compensation because she did not demonstrate that her injury caused her seven consecutive days of total disability.  Bell appealed this decision, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling.  The Arizona Supreme Court then granted review because the case raised issues of statewide importance, potentially affecting other workers’ compensation claims.

The Arizona Supreme Court set aside the administrative law judge’s award and vacated the appellate court’s opinion.  A.R.S. § 23-1062(B) states in pertinent part: “Compensation shall not be paid for the first seven days after the injury.  If the incapacity extends beyond the period of seven days, compensation shall begin on the eighth day after the injury, but if the disability continues for one week beyond such seven days, compensation shall be computed from the date of the injury.”  Relying on the language and legislative history of this provision, its prior decisions on the subject, and other related workers’ compensation statutes, the Court held that A.R.S. § 23-1062(B) requires an injured worker seeking either temporary partial disability or temporary total disability to prove seven consecutive calendar days of some type of work-related disability, which is defined as a loss in earning capacity (and does not require the employee to miss any time at work).  

Vice Chief Justice Pelander authored the unanimous opinion.