Virginia Lawyers Weekly, a statewide newspaper for lawyers, recently highlighted a HammondTownsend case – City of Charlottesville v Scalfani. It’s a good study to show how dedicated, persistent lawyers work for you throughout several layers of appeals.
HammondTownsend’s client, a police officer, played the “take-down” role in a full day of training for fellow police officers. Throughout the day there were various scenarios in which other officers put the take-down officer on the ground, placed handcuffs on him, and then lifted him to his feet. The evidence showed that his shoulder was injured at some point in the afternoon. At the end of the day, he found that he could not lift his arm level with his shoulder or move his arm above his head. Medical examination showed that his shoulder had several injuries, and he subsequently had surgery to repair the injuries.
The deputy commissioner denied the workers’ compensation compensation claim HammondTownsend filed on the officer’s behalf. A general principle of workers’ compensation law is that there must be a clearly defined injury at a specific time. The deputy commissioner ruled that while there was a clearly defined injury the time period was not specific enough.
Following a proceeding before a deputy commissioner, either party has the right to ask the full Commission to review the deputy commissioner’s decision. Stated another way, either party has the right to appeal to the Commission.
HammondTownsend filed a request for review of the deputy commissioner’s decision against the officer. The Commission rejected the deputy commissioner’s conclusion regarding the time issue and found that the officer deserved medical benefits for his injury and compensation for temporary total disability.
The City of Charlottesville, the officer’s employer, appealed the Commission’s decision to the Court of Appeals. The City argued that a day-long training class was not a specific enough time to support a workers’ compensation claim.
The Court of Appeals noted that in a previous case it had found a four-hour period is sufficiently precise for the type of injury present in the officer’s case. The Court of Appeals also noted that “The assumption that [the officer] sustained a non-cumulative injury during the last four hours of training was justified based on [the officer’s] own testimony.” Still, the Court of Appeals reversed the Commission’s decision because the Commission had failed to make a specific factual finding that the officer was injured during the afternoon training session.
The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the Commission to make a specific ruling on this issue. In other words, the Court of Appeals asked the Commission to take a look at the evidence and make a formal decision if the officer was injured during the afternoon training session.
When they reviewed it, the Commission observed that the officer had no signs of injury at the lunch break but had difficulty holding the steering wheel when driving home. Relying on this and other evidence, the Commission concluded that his shoulder injury had occurred during the four hours or so of training in the afternoon. The Commission thus reinstated the award for the officer.
Undeterred, the City appealed again to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals agreed with the Commission’s finding that the officer’s shoulder injury occurred in the afternoon, which is a specific-enough time, so the officer is allowed money under his worker’s compensation claim.
The report in Virginia Lawyers Weekly addresses the Court of Appeals agreeing with the Commission’s opinion after the Commission reviewed the details. The report, from June 2020, does not mention that the City has filed a petition for appeal with the Supreme Court of Virginia. As of this writing, the Supreme Court has not ruled on the petition.
Although almost 3.5 years have passed since the officer’s injury, HammondTownsend continues to fight to gain workers’ compensation benefits for him. The struggle has occurred (repeatedly) at every potential level of a workers’ compensation proceeding, namely, before the deputy commissioner (one appearance), the full Commission (two appearances), the Court of Appeals (two appearances), and the Supreme Court (one appearance, the outcome of which has not yet been decided).
The winding path of the officer’s case shows the value of a HammondTownsend lawyer ready, willing, and able to handle proceedings for a workers’ compensation claim at all judicial levels.