Lewandowski v. Safeway Environmental Corp., 190 A.D.3d 1072:
Claimant performed clean-up at the World Trade Center in 2002. He stopped working in 2015 and filed a claim for COPD. An IME opined that the claimant did not have COPD, but if he did have it, it would be attributed to smoking for 32 years. The WCLJ disallowed the claim, crediting the IME. The Board modified, found sufficient evidence for GERD and PTSD and returned for development of the record on PTSD but found insufficient evidence for COPD. In a subsequent reserve decision the claim was established for GERD and PTSD. The Board then modified that decision to establish agoraphobia with panic disorder, rescinding the PTSD without prejudice. Two years later, PFME was again found for COPD and the claim was later established for PTSD and COPD. The carrier appealed the establishment of the COPD as the medical had not changed. The Board then rescinded establishment of COPD, noting the prior ruling of insufficient evidence for COPD and that subsequent medical reports did not provide any further explanation on causal relationship. Claimant had also sought to modify the date of disablement and average weekly wage. This was denied as the request to address the date of disablement was not found to be timely and the request to change the AWW was based upon the date of disablement. The Board chose not to reopen in the interest of justice, noting that the claimant was represented when this AWW was set. Concerning the COPD, claimant argued that the prior ruling was simply a PFME ruling and that the Board gave the prior ruling preclusive effect, when it ruled that the subsequent reports did not contain any further evidence of causal relationship. The Court did not agree. The Court held that while the prior ruling did not expressly disallow the COPD, it “clearly found” that there was no causally related COPD and the Board considered the later medical evidence and found it lacking. However, the Court sided with claimant on the date of disablement and AWW. A reopening in the interest of justice is in the Board’s discretion and the Board generally has great latitude in setting a date of disablement. However, in the case of a world trade center claim, “the Board is statutorily required to select ‘the date of disablement that is more beneficial to the claimant.’” As it did not appear that this was done, it was an abuse of discretion not to consider the claimant’s request, especially since the AWW had been set without prejudice.