In Yonker v. City of Reno, the court of appeals of Nevada viewed a case involving George Yonker, who appeals from a district court order asking for a petition for judicial review of an administrative decision providing disability benefits. The Second Judicial District Court decided on this appeal.
Yonker was a police officer for the City of Reno from 1978 to 2005. On December 5, 1999, he had a heart attack, and after the incident he filed a claim for workers’ compensation for his heart condition. The City’s insurer granted the claim and identified the condition as heart disease. The insurer also gave Yonker permanent partial disability benefits, which allowed Yonker to return to work for the Reno Police Department until he later retired in 2005. In retirement, he worked for several civilian contractors and the federal government in various law enforcement positions. After July 2011, Yonker stopped working permanently because of medical problems unrelated to his heart disease.
Yonker suffered another heart attack on September 16, 2011. On September 30 of the same year, he requested a reopening of his first heart-disease claim with the city of Reno. Yonker decided to ask for temporary total disability (TTD) benefits that were to be effective from the time of his request to reopen the initial claim. Along with that, he also requested permanent total disability benefits, or PTD. The city’s insurer then denied Yonker of his request. He claimed that Yonker failed to give a certification of disability from a legitimate and treating doctor.
In response, Yonker requested a hearing. Dr. Larry Noble was able to make some conclusions about Yonker’s health before the hearing began. He concluded that Yonker was permanently disabled and unable to be employed as of September 30, 2011. The hearing officer then revered the insurer’s denial of benefits and gave Yonker the disability benefits he requested.
The City of Reno appealed the hearing officer’s decision. The appeals officer also reversed the insurer’s denial of benefits. She cited that Dr. Noble’s medical findings designated Yonker to permanent total disability benefits. She connected this decision to NRS 617.457(11) (2009) that allowed partially disabled police officers to receive PTD benefits.
The City then petitioned the district court for a judicial review of the appeal officer’s decision. The City alleged that the appeals officer made an error as a matter of law by failing to remember the rule given by the Nevada Supreme Court in Howard v. City of Las Vegas, 121 Nev. 691. 120 P.3d 410 (2005). This rule requires that a police officer that is asking for disability benefits should be earning wages on the date of disability in order to have any workers’ compensation benefits. Yonker was not earning wages on the date that Dr. Noble declared him as permanently disabled, so he should not legally be given any benefits.
The district court agreed to this and granted the petition for judicial review. In Yonker’s appeal, he argues that the district court was applying the incorrect standard of review, and that the appeals officer’s decision is supported by enough evidence and have no legal errors. He also argued that the district court was legally wrong and it misapplied Howard and wrongly determined the date of disability.
The court further explained that NRS 617.420 legally required that disability workers’ compensation was to be calculated from the date of disability, and so a claimant is not entitled to benefits if he or she isn’t earning any wages on that given date.
However, Yonker’s previous disability led the appeals officer to conclude that he was entitled to PTD benefits under NRS 617.457(11) which states that person is found to be partially disabled from an occupational disease pursuant to the provisions of this section, and incapable of performing work as a police officer, may receive the benefits for a permanent total disability.
Since NRS 617.420 says that compensation must be computed from the date of disability, and since Yonker was seeking PTD benefits to compensate him for his second disability, any compensation to which he is entitled would need to be calculated from the second date of disability.
So, because Yonker was not earning wages on the date of his second disability, the court of appeals concluded that he is excluded from receiving benefits.
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.