Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Workers Compensation Boards – Workers compensation – Benefits – Legal fees deductibility – Statutory provisions – Judicial review – Standard of review – Patent unreasonableness
Williams v. Newfoundland and Labrador (Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission),  N.J. No. 443, Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, December 23, 2004, Orsborn J.
After being injured at work, the Applicant had been placed on extended earnings loss benefits by the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission. The Applicant had also applied for and received CPP benefits and had incurred legal fees in establishing her entitlement to those CPP benefits. The Commission had calculated that, because of her receipt of CPP benefits, the Commission had overpaid the Applicant by just over $18,000. The Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Act referred to an offset of “75% of the net benefit” and, in calculating the net benefit, the Commission refused to deduct the legal fees paid by the Applicant in establishing her entitlement to CPP benefits.
A review commissioner found that the Commission ought to have deducted the Applicant’s legal fees. This decision was later reversed by the Chief Review Commissioner on reconsideration. The Applicant brought this judicial review proceeding in respect of the Chief Review Commissioner’s reconsideration decision.
The Court applied the functional and pragmatic approach to determine the appropriate standard of review. The question of interpretation of the statutory provisions fell within the core jurisdiction of the Commission and the Review Division. The fact that the matter was being heard by way of reconsideration rather than at first instance in the Review Division was held to not make any difference with respect to the standard of judicial deference. The appropriate standard of review was held to be patent unreasonableness.
Considering the decision of the Chief Review Commissioner and applying this standard of review, the Court held that the decision was not unreasonable, let alone patently unreasonable. The primary stumbling block to making any allowance for legal fees incurred and paid by the worker was said to lie in the Act itself. The Act made no provision for the deduction of expenses incurred to establish entitlement to a benefit, by clearly defining and limiting the specific amounts to be deducted in arriving at net earnings, and by equating CPP disability benefits with wages for the purpose of determining loss of earning capacity. In this manner, the legislature had signalled, as was concluded by the Chief Review Commissioner, that expenses not identified should not be deducted in calculating a worker’s net income. Any change to this practice would require either an amendment to the Act or to the formal policies of the Commission.
The decision to allow the deduction of legal fees paid by the Applicant when determining the amount of CPP disability benefits to be offset was neither unreasonable nor patently unreasonable. In the result, the application was dismissed.
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