Joseph Roy was an employee of Bath Iron Works (BIW) who suffered work-related injuries to his lower back in 1987 and to his neck in 1994 In 2005, Roy filed a petition for review of his workers' compensation benefits and sought, among other benefits, total incapacity benefits because his neck injury had worsened. A hearing officer from the Workers' Compensation Board found that Roy's work-related injuries had totally incapacitated him, but denied Roy total incapacity benefits after March 6, 2006, because a non-work-related liver condition had also caused him to become totally incapacitated. Roy appealed the decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, and argued that under Maine law, subsequent non-work-related injuries in workers' compensation cases do "not relieve the employer of responsibility for a co-existing total incapacity caused by work-related injuries." In Roy v. Bath Iron Works, the Law Court vacated and remanded the hearing officer's decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Alexander found that the language of title 39-A, section 201(5) of the Maine Revised Statutes was unambiguous and that the statute said nothing about eliminating workers' compensation due to subsequent non-work related injuries. Justices Levy and Clifford, concurring with the majority, asserted that recent amendments to Maine's workers' compensation law subsumed the "independent intervening cause" doctrine. Furthermore, the concurrence found that even if the statutes had not eliminated the doctrine, the hearing officer's decision was still incorrect because Roy's work-related injury remained a "substantial cause" of his incapacity. In her dissent, Justice Gorman contended that the hearing officer's determination should be affirmed because (1) the underlying purpose of workers' compensation is to replace wages when an employee is unable to earn income after a work injury, and (2) Roy's liver condition was an independent intervening cause that cut off a prior award for total incapacity benefits. The court's narrow four-to-three decision turned on which legal concept- statutory interpretation or underlying purpose and independent intervening causes- should be applied to the facts of this case to produce the fairest result.
Roy v. Bath Iron Works: Three Different Perspectives on an Unfortunate Situation,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol61/iss2/8