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What Is Voluntary Abandonment? Can I Receive Permanent Total Disability if I Decide to Retire?

Sandy worked for many years as a caregiver to special needs children and adults. One day while taking care of one of the children, she injured her back. Sandy immediately filed for worker’s compensation. Her claim was allowed by the BWC and she had back surgery. Sandy was paid for her lost time due to the surgery.

Six months later, her doctor released her to work with restrictions after she completed her physical therapy. Sandy returned to work on light duty, so her temporary total compensation ceased. At the same time, Sandy was having serious doubts that her back could physically handle parts of her work—in particular, dealing with a special needs patient who would every once in a while get combative.

After a brief time back at her job, Sandy decided to file for retirement with her employer. She also filed for Social Security retirement benefits at the same time. Sandy subsequently filed for Permanent Total Disability because of her back. The Industrial Commission denied permanent total disability. It specifically found her not eligible because she had voluntarily abandoned the workforce. In other words, she quit work with no desire to ever return to work for reasons unrelated to her workers’ compensation claim.

In the hearing about her case, it was undisputed that at the time Sandy decided to retire, she had been released to work with temporary restrictions by her doctor. Sandy has also chosen to withdraw from her rehabilitation program because she was retiring. She also admitted that she had not received any medical advice from her doctor that she should retire from the workforce due to her industrial injury.

It was therefore concluded that Sandy had “voluntarily abandoned” the workforce and therefore was not entitled to Permanent Total Disability (PTD) compensation, even if her departure from her job was injury induced.

Sandy’s request for Permanent Total Disability was denied because she voluntarily left her job. The benefit she applied for was to help her replace her lost income because of her injury. By leaving the workforce for reasons not related to her injury, she also lost the ability to apply for benefits to replace her lost wages.

If you have a work-related injury and you are considering not returning to work for reasons not related to that injury, you may want to consult with an attorney so that you understand all of the issues before making your final decision. We would be glad to help. Call Heller, Maas, Moro & Magill Co., L.P.A., at 330-974-1231.