East Hawaii News

Vog-Related Injury is Compensable, Court Rules

January 24, 2014, 6:50 PM HST
* Updated January 29, 8:58 AM
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The state Supreme Court has ruled that a former employee at a Maui school is entitled to worker’s compensation payments for a health condition worsened by vog from Kilauea volcano.

Lynedon Van Ness was responsible for maintaining computers and other technical equipment at Lahainaluna High School from 2005 to 2006.

According to the finding of facts in the ruling issued Thursday, the exacerbated asthma and resulting medical complications made it difficult for Van Ness to make his way up and down the numerous stairways of the campus of the school built on a steep slope.

He testified during the worker’s comp proceedings that while it took him only about five minutes to go from his office at the top of the campus to the bottom level, it took him 20 minutes to return back up because he was forced to stop at various levels to catch his breath.

The cafeteria at Lahainaluna High School. Photo by Wendy Osher/Maui Now.

The cafeteria at Lahainaluna High School. Photo by Wendy Osher/Maui Now.

Van Ness testified that as it was in his air-conditioned home in Kihei, his condition was eased when he was in his air-conditioned office at the school, but he spent only an estimated 5% of his work time in the office.

In 2006, the Department of Education approved a transfer for Van Ness to an Oahu school because of medical reasons.

In 2007, Van Ness filed a worker’s compensation claim that said heavy levels of the volcanic haze in December 2005 made his asthma worsen.

The DOE rejected Van Ness’ claim, saying that his injury was not work-related.

Appeals filed by Van Ness were rejected by the Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board and the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

In a 51-page unanimous ruling written by Justice Richard W. Pollack, the court reversed both findings, and remanded the case back to the board to determine the amount of compensation to be paid to Van Ness.

The ruling said Van Ness’ asthma was “clearly exacerbated and aggravated by exposure to vog” and by the strenuous requirements of his work which involved climbing approximately 140 stairs between the top and bottom of the Lahainaluna campus.

Testimony during hearings on the matter included a letter from a vice principal at the school who confirmed the unusually high levels of vog at the time, and saying that she suffered “intense headaches” during those episodes.

“On some days the atmosphere was so heavy with vog that we could barely see Lahaina town from Lahainaluna High School,” she wrote.

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