Two recent Hawaii Supreme Court cases have strengthened the position of workers seeking compensation:
Pulawa v. Oahu Construction Co. (Supreme Court of Hawaii, 2015) : Established that an injured worker is entitled to care “reasonably needed” for the worker’s greatest possible medical rehabilitation. The case involved a construction supervisor who was struck in the head with a rock, leading to severe headaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ear) and depression.
Pulawa wanted to get a device to help with the tinnitus, but the insurer denied the request based on doctors who had judged his condition would not improve. Lower panels agreed.
But the Supreme Court found the doctors did not specifically address whether the device was reasonably needed, and that other adjudicators had erred in using a more restrictive standard of “reasonable and necessary.”
Panoke v. Reef Development of Hawaii, Inc. (Supreme Court of Hawaii, 2015) : Panoke was an iron worker injured on the job in 2004. He was guiding some heavy panels being moved by a pulley when they slipped and his body was jerked forward.
The Supreme Court reversed lower labor board and appellate court decisions against Panoke on the basis of medical exams that found he had prior injuries to his shoulders and that he should have felt pain shortly after the accident, instead of a week or so later. The court found that the doctors did not explain why the accident could not have aggravated Panoke’s pre-existing shoulder conditions and why he had not experienced symptoms before the accident.
The opinion underscored the principle that, because of the broad humanitarian purpose of the workers’ comp law, all reasonable doubts should be resolved in favor of the worker.
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