Workers' Compensation - Hearing Loss - Ripeness


Ex parte Warrior Met Coal, Inc., [Ms. 2180740, Sept. 6, 2019] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2019). The court (Edwards, J.; Moore, Donaldson, and Hanson, JJ., concur; Thompson, P.J., concurs in the result) denies a petition for writ of mandamus sought by Warrior Met Coal, Inc. (WMC) challenging the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court’s order denying WMC’s motion for summary judgment contending the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the employee’s hearing loss claim was not ripe.

The court noted that one of the narrow exceptions to the unavailability of review of the denial of a motion for summary judgment lies when a trial court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, Ms. *8-9, and that “when a ‘claim is not ripe for adjudication, ... the trial court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.’” Ms. *9, quoting Ex parte Safeway Ins. Co. of Alabama, Inc., 990 So. 2d 344, 352 (Ala. 2008).

“Ripeness is defined as ‘[t]he circumstance existing when a case has reached, but has not passed, the point when the facts have developed sufficiently to permit an intelligent and useful decision to be made’ or ‘[t]he requirement that this circumstance must exist before a court will decide a controversy.’ Black’s Law Dictionary 1353 (8th ed. 2004).”

Ms. *9, quoting Ex parte Safeway Ins. Co. of Alabama, Inc., 990 So. 2d at 352 n. 5.

The court construed § 25-5-117(b), the statute of limitations for occupational exposure claims, as providing that “‘the date of the injury shall mean the date of the [most recent] exposure to the hazards of the disease in the employment of the employer in whose employment the employee was [most recently] exposed to the hazards of the disease.’” Ms. *22, quoting 25-5-117(b).

The court concluded that this construction was most compatible with other sections of the Workers’ Compensation Act and the construction that “best effectuates the beneficent purposes of the Act.” Ms. *29. The employee presented evidence from his treating physician supporting that his hearing loss was caused “by work-related noise and that such hearing loss ‘is most often permanent and no further medical care or treatment could be reasonably anticipated to medically treat [it] ....” Ms. *34. Accordingly, the court held that “the trial court did not err in denying WMC’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because [the employee’s] workers’ compensation claim purportedly was not ripe.” Ms. *35.

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