Increasing Rights: Osterlund Benefits for the Undocumented Individual & Medical Marijuana Benefits

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The Connecticut workers’ compensation system is designed to assist the injured worker when claiming a valid and compensable injury. Over the years, the rights of the injured worker have been expanded, amended, and challenged. Recently, two Connecticut Review Board (CRB) decisions increased those rights once again.

Medical marijuana use has been legalized in several states; however, it is not federally legalized, which causes various issues. In Connecticut, recreational marijuana use is still illegal, while medical marijuana for certain conditions (i.e., chronic back pain, anxiety, etc.) is allowed. On October 29, 2019, the CRB issued an opinion concerning the payment of medical marijuana through a workers’ compensation case; Caye v. Thyssenkrupp Elevator (Case No. 6296 CRB-1-18-11). In this case, the respondents appealed a decision directing them to pay for the claimant’s medical marijuana prescriptions and reimburse his expenses in obtaining medical marijuana. The respondents argued preemption under the federal Supremacy Clause. Ultimately, the CRB decided that the respondents could reimburse the claimant for his expenses in obtaining the medical marijuana. However, the respondents would not be directed to authorize direct payment to a pharmacy for such treatment.

Another example took place at the end of January 2020 concerning an injured undocumented worker’s rights to make an Osterlund permanent total disability claim. Prior to the CRB’s recent decision, the case law supported that an undocumented individual was entitled to temporary total benefits, medical benefits, and partial permanent disability benefits. An undocumented worker was not entitled to temporary partial (TP) benefits, C.G.S. Section 31-308a (308a) benefits, or Osterlund total permanent disability benefits because an undocumented worker is unable to satisfy the requirement that he/she is looking for gainful employment within his/her work place restrictions because they could not legally work in the state. In Tuba Saquipay v. All Seasons Landscaping of Ridgefield, LLC, ET AL (Case No. 6332 CRB 7-19-5), the CRB revisited this controversial issue. The law remains unchanged except for one key distinction: an individual’s citizenship would no longer be considered when determining eligibility for Osterlund total permanent disability benefits. The CRB’s decision in Tuba has now opened the door for potential permanent total liability claims under Osterlund for undocumented workers. Though not specifically litigated, the impact of this decision may also allow such workers to collect TP and 308a benefits.

These two CRB decisions are windfalls for the injured worker. Both cases address highly anticipated and litigated issues. In the situation of the injured worker, medical marijuana expenses can now be reimbursed and undocumented workers have recourse if they become permanently totally disabled as a result of their work injuries.