Temporary total disability benefits available “for life,” says NM Supreme Court

The New Mexico Supreme Court, in Fowler v. Vista Care (June 5, 2014, by Justice Daniels) has held that temporary total disability (TTD) benefits are not subject to any time limits, but are available during a worker’s entire life, as long as he or she has not reached maximum medical improvement.

Administrative agencies, like the Workers’ Compensation Administration, sometimes argue that an agency’s long-term, consistent interpretation and implementation of a statute is entitled to deference, but this decision is a reminder that this principle cannot overcome a statute’s commands. Justice Daniels’ opinion acknowledges the WCA’s long-standing practice was to treat TTD benefits as being subject to time limits, but still held that “whatever WCA practice may exist,” the Workers’ Compensation Act does not impose time limits on those benefits. See Paragraphs 14, 22-23.

In sum, an agency’s long-standing practice and belief that a statute does not allow certain conduct will not prevail if the statute actually does permit that conduct.

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