Rueda v Utah Labor Commission; JBS USA LLC et al.

JBS sought review of Commission’s decision affirming a grant of workers compensation benefits to Rueda arguing the “cumulative trauma” theory was no longer available based on 1991 amendments to the occupational disease statute. The Court split 2 to affirm in part and reverse in part, 2 to affirm and 1 to vacate and reamed and thus Commission’s decision stands. Himonas, joined by Pearce , field an opinion arguing that “disease’ and “injury by accident” are terms of art defined by centuries of case law and the key distinction in Utah precedent is accidents are unexpected and definite while diseases are expected and usually develop over time, the 1991 amendments did not explicitly change these definitions, the legislative history supports continuing to use the distinctions found in Utah precedent and reliance interests also support keeping the distinctions. He argued that the amendments did not abolish the cumulative trauma theory because they are silent on the issue and the precedent in the area should not be abandoned because the theory is well recognized in case law, reversing the rule would require significant inferences which lead to an unreasonable result, the cumulative trauma theory has worked well in practice and changing the rules here would work hardship on some claimants. He argued that the record supported Commission’s finding of cumulative trauma as the medical panel here concluded her rotator cuff tear was the result of repeated use in doing her duties at a meat packing plant. He argued the Commission’s determination the tear was an accident should be reversed because the condition was the expected result of the repetitive wear and tear over the course of years and thus it should be characterized as an occupational disease. Durrant joined by Durham field an opinion arguing the Commission should be affirmed arguing that the Himonas approach in reality punishes people whose body can stand repetitive strain more than others; the two statues are best read under an ordinary meaning approach as the key distinction is between injury and disease and the ordinary meaning approach is consistent with that of the majority of states with similar statutory schemes; the workers compensation statute focuses on injuries and the occupational disease statue focuses on disease and these terms are not completely defined and thus should be given their ordinary meaning; the workers compensation statutes exclude disease, not occupational disease, from its coverage and 1991 amendments define occupational disease as any disease or illness and thus there is no basis adopt term of art analysis; the 1991 amendments as well as the orders compensation statutes eliminate any basis to conclude the term of art analysis in prior case law has any remaining relevance as the use of disease and any disease indicate a rejection of the term of art developed in case law; and following the approach of four states which have similar schemes and have ruled on the issue as well as dictionary definitions , he argued the key difference between disease and injury is the presence of trauma as disease requires invasion of the body by outside agent and here Rueda’s condition is an injury as it resulted from repeated trauma and case law holds cumulative trauma makes the injury one done “by accident”. He also argued his approach would be clearer, more definite and more practicable than the approach of Himonas or Lee. Lee field an opinion arguing that unexpectedness should be the test to distinguish injury form disease and argued Himonas erred in adding the definiteness element and the spectrum of injury to disease as not part of Utah precedent as well as introducing indeterminacy as to some injuries which is inconsistent with the statutory schemes. He also argued disease and injury are terms of art rejecting Durant’s positon and arguing for brad understandings of both terms to give effect to the language used by the legislature despite the reality that more claimants would get lower benefits under this approach than Durrant’s approach. He further argued that mechanism of causation is the key difference between an injury and an occupational disease, the 1991 amendments accepted the terms of art based on the mechanism of causation and the term of art definition focuses on the harms and maladies inherent in given line of work with those that are inherent being diseases and those which are not being accidents as they are unexpected. He finally argued remand was necessary to determine if eth tear was a normal outcome from Rueda’s performance of her duties.