Summer is upon us and the 4th of July is just around the corner. Almost as exciting as fireworks is the third prong of the five-part rehabilitation test for South Dakota workers’ compensation claims. As Laura mentioned in last week’s blog post, I have the honor of discussing the third prong and what it means to you in evaluating your work comp claim. The third prong of the five-part test provides: The program of rehabilitation must be a reasonable means of restoring the employee to employment.

When determining whether a rehabilitation program is reasonable, the South Dakota Supreme Court has declared that the Claimant bears the burden of establishing the reasonableness of the program. Chiolis v. Lage Development Co., 512 N.W.2d 158, 161 (SD 1994). In considering an appropriate rehabilitation program, the Department “must not lose sight of the fact the employer has a stake in the case” and “the employer is required to ‘underwrite’ the expenses of rehabilitation.” Id. An injured worker cannot insist upon a college education if other suitable employment opportunities exist that do not require college training. Id. at 160, (quoting Barkdull v. Homestake Mining Co., 411 N.W.2d 408, 410 (S.D. 1987).

When reviewing requests for rehabilitation, the parties must look at the claimant’s underlying career and wages to determine the reasonableness of the requested/suggested rehabilitation program. For instance, it is probably unreasonable for a forty-five year old, over-the-road truck driver (who has been driving truck since he was 18), with a high school education, to get a four-year accounting degree when a two-year vocational program for bookkeeping would provide sufficient income to restore him to employment. As with the other prongs of the rehabilitation test, use of a vocational expert to address the third prong is a valuable tool to help determine whether the rehabilitation program is a reasonable means of restoring the employee to employment. The vocational expert will be able to analyze the job market, identify the average income for a variety of positions, and provide invaluable insight to evaluate the claim properly.

Stay tuned for further discussion of a rehabilitation claim in South Dakota in next week’s blog post, and the riveting discussion by Mike about the fourth prong of the five-part test. As always, feel free to contact us if you have any questions.