On January 24, 2022, the Court of Appeals of New Mexico, in Cardenas v. Aztec Municipal Schools, held that New Mexico workers compensation statutes (NMSA) 52-1-41 and 52-1-42—which limit the duration of disability benefits for secondary mental impairments to the number of weeks allowable for an employee’s primary physical injury—treat workers with secondary mental impairments differently than similarly situated workers with secondary physical impairments in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico constitution.
In this case, a workers compensation judge limited a claimant’s duration of benefits for a secondary mental impairment to 150 weeks, the period set for the primary scheduled physical injury, as required by NMSA 52-1-41 and 52-1-42. The employee argued that the benefit time limits for workers with a secondary mental impairment are not imposed on benefits for a worker with a secondary physical impairment, which violates the Equal Protection Clause under the state’s constitution.
In analyzing the Equal Protection challenge, the Court of Appeals considered the threshold questions set by the state supreme court to determine whether a worker’s equal protection rights are violated: (1) whether workers are similarly situated to another group but treated dissimilarly and if so, (2) is the different treatment substantially related to an important government interest. The court concluded that workers with secondary physical impairments and workers with secondary mental impairments were similarly situated, but workers with secondary mental impairments received disparate treatment because the duration on disability benefits was solely based on the secondary impairment being mental. The court also found that the disparate classification did not have a substantial relation to a government interest. Therefore, the court held, New Mexico statutes 52-1-41 and 52-1-42 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico Constitution.
This case could be appealed. NCCI will monitor further developments.
For more information on other cases monitored by NCCI’s Legal Division, visit previous Court Case Updates and
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