- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2000

Workers who qualify for disability pensions while they recover from job injuries won a recent victory in the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The court ruled Oct. 26 that a Teamsters truck driver who injured his back on the job could receive both workers' compensation benefits from his employer and a disability pension from his union. The employer, Mushroom Transportation, and its insurer argued that injured workers should not be able to recover both forms of compensation when the total was greater than 80 percent of the employee's pre-injury earnings.

"I think it's a great victory," said Phil Feaster, president of Teamsters Local 639. "A person's pension has nothing to do with his workmen's compensation. A pension is what he earned by himself. Workmen's compensation is something the company or its insurer owes him because he was injured on the job."

The truck driver, Ira Scott, injured his back in 1985 when he was 57 years old by falling off his truck while making a delivery. He suffered what the court called a permanent and total disability, rendering him unable to work.

Mushroom Transportation, a freight trucking firm based in Baltimore, has gone out of business since Mr. Scott's injury. The company's insurer, National Union Fire Insurance Co., sued Mr. Scott to recover $53,000 of his workers' compensation payments after it learned he also was receiving a disability pension from the Teamsters.

The court said workers could receive disability pensions in addition to workers' compensation as long as the employer alone did not fund the pension. In Mr. Scott's case, the Teamsters' disability pension was funded both through workers' union dues and employers' contributions.

"I think what this precedent will do is that it will ensure that employees who are injured on the job will not lose the benefit of pension funds they have funded," said George Swegman, the attorney for Mr. Scott. "It's a benefit for union workers because their employers can no longer take credit for a benefit the worker is receiving that he paid for through his union dues."

Mr. Scott had been a dues-paying member of Local 639 for 27 years before his injury. Mushroom Transportation had contributed to the Teamsters pension fund for less than three years.

The D.C. Court of Appeals said that depriving Mr. Scott of his disability pension would be "unfair to the employee, as well as contrary to prevailing norms in the field of workers' compensation, for the employer to benefit from a fund to which it had not substantially contributed especially where giving the employer a credit would in effect penalize the employee for his contributions into the fund."

Before his injury, Mr. Scott earned about $23,000 a year as a truck driver, his attorney said. When his workers' compensation and disability pension benefits were combined, he was receiving about $25,000 a year.

National Union Fire Insurance said Mr. Scott should receive no more than $18,684 a year in benefits. The insurer based its argument on Section 9 of the D.C. Workers' Compensation Act that said benefits from employers to injured workers should not exceed 80 percent of their pre-injury earnings. The insurance company wanted a refund from Mr. Scott for any payments that exceeded 80 percent.

However, the Court of Appeals said, "Since Scott's union pension fund in this case was not solely funded by Mushroom, no reduction in benefits was authorized."

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