Part four of the five-part test states that an employee must file a claim with his employer requesting the benefits in order to be entitled to the same. The South Dakota Supreme Court, in Chiolis v. Lage Dev. Co., 512 N.W.2d 158, 161-162 (S.D. 1994), stated:
“Even recognizing that the primary purpose of rehabilitation benefits is to restore the injured employee to substantial and gainful employment, the worker may not unilaterally decide what training he or she may want to pursue and proceed to do so at the employer’s expense. To approve such an independent approach to rehabilitation training by a claimant would result in untold administrative and economic chaos and a total breakdown of the legislatively intended benefits to the injured worker of rehabilitation training. While such self-improvement is highly laudable, particularly in view of the claimant’s independent quest for it, unaided by the employer or carrier, it is outside the range of benefits provided by South Dakota law. To approve a procedure which allows an injured employee to select a rehabilitation program before petitioning Department or reaching an agreement with the employer would be putting the cart before the horse.”
The Court in Chilois denied retraining benefits, in part, due to the claimant’s unilateral decision to enter into a rehabilitation program.
The Department addressed a similar factual scenario in Shellie Holvig v. Rent-a-Center and Specialty Risk Services, HF No. 130, 2004/05, when the claimant therein moved to Phoenix and began her retraining program without alerting her employer and insurer of the same. The Department held that the acts of the claimant deprived her employer and insurer or a reasonable opportunity to evaluate her vocational situation properly and demonstrate the necessity of element four of the retraining test. Id. at 6. The Department also noted that the claimant had decided long before the denial to assume financial responsibility for her bachelor’s degree, and that there was no evidence that employer and insurer therein led the claimant to believe she would receive benefits for the program and she took no actions to her detriment based on any actions of the employer and insurer. Id.
All seemed pretty clear on this issue until Koval v. City of Aberdeen and SDML Workers’ Compensation Fund, HF No. 142, 2014/15. In Koval, the claimant had completed his claimed retraining program before petitioning or otherwise requesting retraining benefits from the Employer/Provider. On a motion for summary judgment, the Department stated:
“However, there is nothing in SDCL 62-4-5.1 or the five part test established by the Supreme Court which dictates when such a claim must be made. It is merely required that a claim be made. That such a claim could later be denied is merely a risk the Claimant makes by not getting preapproval. “A claimant may enroll in a rehabilitation program without the consent of employer, but he does so at his own risk; that is, rehabilitation benefits will not be guaranteed for a particular program simply because the program is one the claimant wishes to pursue.” Kurtenbach v. Frito-Lay, 1997 S.D. 66, ¶ 23, 563 N.W. 2d 869, 875. “It is [claimant’s] right to seek a college education, but [employer] cannot be compelled to pay for such a program if it is not necessary.” Chiolis v. Large Dev. Co., 512 N.W.2d 158, 161 (S.D. 1994) (emphasis added) (quoting Cozine v. Midwest Coast Transport Inc., 454 N.W.2d 548, 554 (S.D. 1990)).
Pursuing a rehabilitation program without first filing a claim and receiving approval does not guarantee the receipt of benefits. However, not seeking preapproval does not preclude the application of the rest of the test to establish if claimant is entitled to the rehabilitation benefits. Therefore, since Claimant’s claim satisfactorily fulfills step four of the test, and Claimant and Employer disagree on his fulfillment of the rest of the five-part test requirements, issues of material fact remain regarding Claimant’s petition for retraining benefits.”
The Koval decision was settled before hearing and consequently there have been no appeals from this curious decision that clearly allows a claimant, contrary to Chiolis, to “…put the cart before the horse”.