Additional Employee Benefits In Wyoming

The statutory language unambiguously directs that additional benefits may be granted to an employee subject to "requirements and limitations." Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-403(g)(i) (Michie 1991).

The employee requesting benefits is required to provide income amounts from the types of income specified in subparagraph (C) for consideration. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-403(g)(i)(C) (Michie 1991).

Subparagraph (D) limits the maximum amount of an extended benefits award to no more than the award amount specified in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-403(c).

The statute plainly states that an employee may receive an extended benefits award up to the maximum amount permitted under section (c) in addition to all of the income received as specified in subparagraph (C).

Subparagraph (C)'s requirement to consider other income indicates that the maximum permissible amount of an extended benefits award is not always available to a claimant.

Since 1985, we have accepted that awarding extended permanent total benefits is proper when the initial award has been exhausted and the injured employee's earning capacity and expenses justify the award. Shapiro v. State ex rel. Wyo. Workers' Comp. Div., 703 P.2d 1079, 1080 (Wyo. 1985).

Although the legislature has modified the statute on several occasions, this interpretation was not corrected and, under the doctrine of imputed knowledge, we are obligated to read the statute in harmony with existing law.

"Knowledge of the settled principles of statutory interpretation must be imputed to the legislature." Parker Land and Cattle Co. v. Wyo. Game and Fish Comm'n, 845 P.2d 1040, 1044 (Wyo. 1993) (quoting In re Dragoni, 53 Wyo. 143, 153, 79 P.2d 465, 467 (1938) (overruled on other grounds)).

This Court presumes that the legislature enacts statutes "with full knowledge of the existing condition of the law and with reference to it. They are therefore to be construed in connection and in harmony with the existing law, and as part of a general and uniform system of jurisprudence." Civic Ass'n of Wyoming v. Railway Motor Fuels, 57 Wyo. 213, 238, 116 P.2d 236, 245 (1941); accord, L.U. Sheep Co. v. Bd. of County Comm'rs, 790 P.2d 663 (Wyo. 1990).

The decision in Duncan v. Laramie County Community College, 768 P.2d 593, 595 (Wyo. 1989) supports Shapiro's interpretation, stating "we hold that the clear intent of the statute is to grant to the district court a discretionary ability to order additional compensation where the facts and circumstances so warrant." Duncan, 768 P.2d at 594.

Duncan's language that "benefits are not intended as an income maintenance mechanism, but rather to provide an injured worker with payments in the nature of subsistence" relies upon authority provided in the dissenting opinion to Shapiro, a dissent that complained the majority opinion did not award sufficient support in the form of additional benefits. Duncan, 768 P.2d at 595; Shapiro, 703 P.2d at 1083 (Thomas, C.J., dissenting).

Duncan requires that the Division or hearing examiner consider many factors and exercise discretion in making an award of extended benefits. Duncan, 768 P.2d at 595.

General Chemical's assertion that Ottema and Duncan's subsistence level language must be interpreted to require awards be limited to government established poverty levels is incorrect.

Ottema's reference to "subsistence" is dicta in its statement of facts and has no bearing on the issue before us. Bales v. Brome, 53 Wyo. 370, 380, 84 P.2d 714, 717 (Wyo. 1938) ("The authority of a former decision as a precedent must be limited to the points actually decided on the facts before the court.").