Arizona Court: Spousal Caregiver Entitled to Workers’ Comp Compensation

July 2, 2009

The spouse of an injured employee may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in exchange for providing home care, the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled.

According to Sabino Carbajal v. The Industrial Commission of Arizona, in November 1999, Carbajal had an industrial accident, that caused cognitive problems and partial paralysis on his right side. As a result, he requires full-time supervision and intermittent attendant assistance.

Carbajal initially lived at home, and his employer, Phelps Dodge, and its workers’ compensation carrier provided attendant care for approximately eight to nine hours per day. When the attendant was not around, Carbajal’s wife provided care and supervision. She also was provided training on monitoring and assisting her husband with health care.

Mr. Carbajal, through his legal guardian, requested payment for attendant care services provided by wife, which the carrier denied. Following an Industrial Commission hearing, the Administrative Law Judge denied compensation, concluding that Mrs. Carbajal’s services were “akin to the day-to-day duties assumed by a spouse in accord
with the marriage commitment,” court documents state.

A court of appeals affirmed the initial ruling.

However, the Supreme Court said certain services Mrs. Carbajal provided were identical to those rendered by paid attendants, regardless of whether she was a “licensed” caregiver or not. The high court vacated the opinion of the court of appeals, set aside the Industrial Commission award, and remanded the case to the Industrial Commission for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

“An Arizona workers’ compensation statute requires payment for ‘medical, surgical and hospital benefits or other treatment, [or] nursing . . . reasonably required … during the period of disability.’ … We hold that the compensability of these services depends on the nature of the care provided and not the status or identity of the service provider,” the court wrote.

Source: Arizona Court

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