Employer Responsible for Shoddy Home Renovations
A man whose work‑related injuries left him paraplegic recently succeeded in his workers’ compensation petition for repairs to his home bathroom.
The Workers’ Compensation Act puts the responsibility on employers and their insurers for compensating injured workers for wage losses and medical benefits for work‑related injuries. The Act’s requirement that employers provide injured employees with “orthopedic appliances” has been interpreted to require items such as wheelchairs and canes, as well as handicapped vans, and, now, renovated bathrooms.
The man’s paraplegia left him without bladder control. The employer paid for renovations to his home bathroom to make it accessible and usable for him. Unfortunately, the contractor that the employer hired did a poor job, leaving the injured worker with a leaking and moldy bathroom. The worker returned to the workers’ compensation court and demanded that the employer pay to repair the shoddy construction.
The court acknowledged that in‑home ramps, safety bars, and bathroom modifications are “devices” that are necessary for injured workers who must use wheelchairs. Employers are responsible for paying for modifications to injured employees’ homes if the living space is not usable without the modifications, but employers are not required to commit to a course of upgrades.
Employees who require home modifications must propose a reasonable plan, and all the work must be completed as a single project. If items wear out, employers are responsible for replacing them-for example, the workers’ compensation court has required employers to pay for the maintenance and repair of stair lift chairs. In this case, the court held that if the employer hires a contractor whose work is not completed carefully and properly, the employer is responsible for paying to correct the mistakes and for completing the work properly.
Injured workers who need home construction to make their living space handicapped‑accessible and handicapped‑usable must plan carefully for their one‑time entitlement to home renovations. Injured workers would also be well advised to leave the choice and supervision of the contractor to the employer and the insurance company in order to effectively shift the responsibility to them for ensuring that the work is completed properly.