The Supreme Court of Nebraska reviews Gimple v. Student Transp. Of America, which involved Shelley R. Gimple and the Student Transportation of America and National Interstate Ins. Co. A drunk driver recklessly drove a vehicle that crashed into a school bus driven by Shelly R. Gimple. The crash injured Gimple and later permanently disabled her. For a short time, the Student Transportation of America (Student Transportation) paid workers’ compensation benefits to Gimple as Gimple’s employer. Once Gimple had asserted she was disabled as a result of her previous injuries, Student Transportation refused to pay her benefits that Gimple claimed she was entitled to.
Gimple brought her case to the Workers’ Compensation Court as a result of Student Transportation’s refusal to pay any further benefits. The court had asserted that Gimple was entitled to more benefits and that it didn’t have jurisdiction to grant relief asked by Student Transportation involving a settlement Gimple had entered into with the drunk driver. The Workers’ Compensation Court denied Gimple’s request that she be given attorney fees, penalties and interest because of Student Transportation’s refusal to pay the benefits she wanted.
The parties have appealed and cross-appealed, and the appeals court has affirmed the compensation court’s dispute that Gimple was entitled to benefits and that it didn’t have legal jurisdiction to resolve problems involving the third-party settlement. The appeals court does reverse its decision that Gimple was not entitled to penalties, attorney fees and interest.
Student Transportation had originally paid some workers’ compensation benefits for Gimple once she accumulated multiple medical expenses involving surgeries for her injury to her left arm. However, an argument arose between the two parties regarding Gimple’s entitlement to any additional benefits. Gimple alleged that she was, at that later point, permanently disabled from her injuries due to the accident, and that she was therefore entitled to permanent partial disability benefits (also known as PPD benefits).
Once Student Transportation decided they would not pay PPD benefits to Gimple, she filed an action in the Workers’ Compensation Court against Student Transportation, as well as the workers’ compensation insurance company. Student Transportation did admit that Gimple suffered an injury during her employment with the company, but denied any further allegations.
Student Transportation also argued that Gimple had not complied with the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act in settling a claim against the third party who hurt her for $25,000 without giving notice or reimbursement to Student Transportation. So, because of this, Student Transportation asked the compensation court to state the settlement as void or that the company was entitled to a credit against any past and future benefits.
During the initial trial, the compensation court decided that Gimple was entitled to temporary total disability benefits, but not PPD benefits. The reason for this was because Gimple had failed to give proper evidence of permanent injuries or impairment. The court also found that it did not have jurisdiction to give relief that Student Transportation asked for regarding the third-party settlement.
Later, Gimple filed a motion to modify the original award of temporary total disability benefits. She alleged that the compensation court was wrong in denying the parties’ argument that her injury was to the left arm, because the parties had relied on that argument when giving evidence. She sought for modification of her award to PPD benefits, also because of Dr. Ian Crabb’s medical testimony that declared she suffered a 13 percent permanent partial impairment to her left arm.
After a hearing on the motion to modify the award, the compensation court sustained the motion and gave a modified award of $12,721 to Gimple for PPD benefits. The court did agree that it was wrong in denying the parties’ stipulation that Gimple had injured her left arm. The compensation court, however, still denied Gimple’s request for penalties, attorney fees, and interest for Student Transportation’s denied payment of PPD benefits.
On appeal, Student Transportation stated that the compensation court was wrong in concluding it didn’t have jurisdiction to examine the issues involving the third-party settlement, and it was wrong in finding that Gimple was entitled to PPD benefits for her left arm injury. On cross-appeal, Gimple alleged that the compensation court was wrong in failing to award penalties, attorney fees and interest.
The Nebraska appeals court concluded that the compensation court and the appeals court both do not have jurisdiction to decide these issues relating to Gimple’s settlement with the third party. Since there is no action pending against the drunk driver who injured Gimple, Student Transportation’s disputes involving the third-party settlement must be presented to “the district court in which such action could be brought.” That action against the third party cannot be brought in the compensation court, so the compensation court was correct in seeing it did not have authority in granting relief to Student Transportation.
The appeals court also concludes that the compensation court correctly found that Gimple was entitled to her PPD benefits, but was wrong in denying her penalties, attorney fees and interest. In order to provide PPD benefits, there must be evidence that Gimple was permanently impaired, which was provided to the court in Dr. Crabb’s medical letter. Evidence also found that Student Transportation was legally required to pay PPD benefits within 30 days of notice of her disability, which it erred to do.
For all of these reasons, the appeals court affirms the judgment of the compensation court partly.
Nationally recognized litigation attorney Thomas Metier practice areas include traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, trucking accidents and motor vehicle accidents. He is licensed to practice in Colorado, Wyoming, the U.S. District Court–District of Colorado, and the U.S. District Court–District of Wyoming, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.