West Virginia high court excludes inmates from workers' comp

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Inmates participating in work-release programs do not quality for workers' compensation benefits, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled has ruled.

The court on Thursday unanimously affirmed a Workers' Compensation Board of Review's 2015 decision to not grant workers' compensation to a work release inmate named William F. Crawford, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. Crawford's hand was severely injured in a wood chipper in 2013 while he was working on a road crew for the state Division of Highways.

He was employed by the Charleston Work Release Center, now called the Charleston Correctional Center. Inmates live and work there as they prepare to re-enter society after leaving prison.

Crawford's injury required hospitalization and surgery, and his ring and pinky fingers were partially amputated. The state Department of Corrections covered his medical expenses, which exceeded $90,000. He was released on parole shortly after his hospitalization.

Court documents say Crawford sought workers' compensation benefits because "lack of treatment has put him at a significant disadvantage in re-entering society." He had appealed the board of review's decision, saying state law didn't clarify coverage exclusion for work-release inmates. He also said his equal protection rights had been violated, arguing that inmates working for private businesses would receive the benefits, while inmates working for a state agency would not.

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