Ronald Gerton incurred cumulative industrial injury to his low back while working as a firefighter for the City of Pleasanton. The parties’ AME Dr. Post used the range of motion method to rate applicant’s back impairment under the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, Fifth Edition (AMA Guides) in accordance with the 2005 PDRS, and the physician opined that applicant has a 21% whole person impairment using that rating. With regard to apportionment, Dr. Post noted that applicant obtained a prior award of 3% permanent disability for a January 11, 2004 specific injury to the back, which was rated using subjective factors under the earlier 1997 PDRS.
However, the WCJ rejected this rating, and explained that the Diminished Future Earning Capacity (DFEC) adjustment factor contained in the 2005 Permanent Disability Rating Schedule (2005 PDRS) was rebutted at trial by the testimony and reporting of applicant’s vocational expert Eugene Van de Bittner, Ph.D., who opined that applicant’s work preclusions resulted in a 65% DFEC, and the WCJ used that 65% figure to find applicant’s 62% permanent disability after applying apportionment pursuant to the opinion of the parties’ Agreed Medical Examiner (AME) Michael Post, M.D.
Defendant petitioned for reconsideration contending that Dr. Van de Bittner’s reporting was not substantial evidence in support of the WCJ’s finding of 62% permanent disability. The WCAB granted reconsideration, rescinded the aware and remanded the case of Ronald Gerton v City of Pleasanton for further proceedings.
One of the problems with the award was that the vocational expert excluded the Applicant’s actual post-injury earnings in his calculations of diminished future earning capacity. Starting in 6/10, applicant performed some work as a type of construction supervisor for his older brother and younger brothers. His first assignment was to live at a multimillion dollar home in Carmel, California during a remodel project conducted by his older brother. Mr. Gerton supervised the work of construction workers at this home. He worked for about 6 weeks at the rate of about 40 hours per week. Since then he has assisted his younger brothers in apartment remodeling projects. Apartments are gutted and remodeled when tenants vacate the premises. In exchange for his services, his brothers will perform construction work at his home in Livermore and at his cabin. Since his retirement, he has continued to work 20 to 40 hours per week as a jobsite supervisor for his brother’s construction company. He works as much as he wants to work. He is paid $45 per hour for his time
The WCJ found that those earnings were artificially high because the work was being done for a close relative, applicant’s brother. Dr. Van de Bittner found that this work lies outside what applicant could expect to compete for in the open labor market and said it was essentially sheltered employment. “The charity of Applicant’s family should not be used to create a false impression of Applicant’s true capacity for earnings.”
The WCAB disagreed. It concluded “We find no evidence in the record that supports the WCJ’s conclusion that applicant was performing “sheltered work” or that his post-injury earnings are “charity” provided by his family as stated in the Report. Instead, the expected duties of a construction supervisor, the continuing availability of that work to applicant and the $45 per hour pay he receives for it indicates otherwise, as does applicant’s expressed interest in performing that same kind of work as a volunteer overseeing the remodeling of homes. Upon return to the trial level the record should be further developed on the issue of applicant’s post-injury earnings and whether his actual earning history should be utilized to evaluate his DFEC and permanent disability.”