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AGO 1959 No. 52 - July 20, 1959
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS - STATE - DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRIES - AUTHORITY TO PROVIDE OR REPLACE ARTIFICIAL SUBSTITUTES OR MECHANICAL APPLIANCES, CONSTRUING RCW 51.36.020.

(1) Under RCW 51.36.020, and for injuries occurring before June 1951, the department may not repair or replace artificial substitutes or mechanical appliances where the replacement is required because of gain or loss of body weight or due to wear and tear, but either may be replaced where there has been aggravation of the injury requiring additional treatment and as a result thereof the old substitute or appliance is no longer adequate or serviceable.  (2) The term "artificial substitute" as used in RCW 51.36.020 includes artificial eyes, but doesnot include dentures.  (3) The term "mechanical appliance" as used in RCW 51.36.020 does not include artificial eyes or dentures.  (4) In cases of injuries prior to June 1951, artificial eyes may not be repaired or replaced when worn to the extent of being unserviceable; but may be repaired or replaced in case of injuries occurring subsequent to June 1951.

                                                                  - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                    July 20, 1959

Honorable Jerry Hagan, Director
Department of Labor and Industries
General Administration Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                       Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 52

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested the opinion of this office upon several questions paraphrased as follows:

            (1) In cases of injury occurring prior to June 1951, may the department, under existing statutes, authorize the repair or replacement of artificial substitutes or mechanical appliances,

                        (a) on the basis of an anatomical change not requiring treatment, such as a gain or loss of general body weight;

                        (b) When the substitute or appliance, requires replacement due solely to  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] wear and tear;

                        (c) when there has been an aggravation of the injury requiring treatment and, following such treatment, the old substitute or appliance no longer fits?

            (2) Do either of the terms "artificial substitutes" or "mechanical appliances" as used in RCW 51.36.020, include artificial eyes or dentures?

            (3) In cases of injury occurring subsequent to June 1951, may artificial eyes or dentures be repaired or replaced when they are worn to the extent of being unserviceable?

            (4) In cases of injury occurring prior to June 1951, may artificial eyes or dentures be repaired or replaced when they are worn to the extent of being unserviceable, either as a treatment measure or a permanent mechanical appliance?

            We answer questions 1 (a) and 1 (b) in the negative; question 1 (c) in the affirmative.  The answers to questions 2, 3, and 4 are contained in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Questions 1 (a) and 1 (b) were previously answered by this office in AGO 53-55 No. 277 [[to Department of Labor and Industries on June 23, 1954]].  Briefly, this opinion examined the amendment of § 2, chapter 186, Laws of 1943 by § 6, chapter 236, Laws of 1951 [RCW 51.36.020] and concluded:

            "You are accordingly advised that in our opinion it would not be the responsibility of the department to repair or replace artificial appliances which had been furnished for injuries occurring prior to the effective date of the 1951 act."

            A copy of AGO 53-55 No. 277 [[to Department of Labor and Industries on June 23, 1954]]is attached for your information.

            We must refer to the standards of medical care contemplated by the law in order to answer question 1 (c).  It is our opinion that RCW 51.36.020 does not wholly encompass the problem presented.

            RCW 51.04.030 and RCW 51.36.010 indicate the standards of medical care under the workmen's compensation act.  RCW 51.04.030 provides, in part, that the department shall:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            ". . . provide prompt and efficient care and treatment to workmen injured in extra-hazardous [[extrahazardous]]work at the least cost consistent with promptness and efficiency, . . ."

            RCW 51.36.010 provides in part that the workman:

            ". . . shall receive . . . proper and necessary medical and surgical services . . . and proper and necessary hospital care and services during the period of disability from such injury, . . ."

            In light of these standards, it is our opinion that if the department reopens a claim for aggravation and undertakes the treatment of a workman and, as a result of such treatment, the substitute or appliance no longer fits, the department would be responsible for the repair or replacement of the same.  Certainly, under these circumstances, proper and necessary medical care would require the repair or replacement of the substitute or appliance.

            In order to answer your second question, the terms "artificial substitutes" and "mechanical appliances" must be examined in context to determine their meaning.

            "In determining the meaning of a word as used in a particular instance, regard must necessarily be had to the subject matter in connection with which it is used, and also to the context of the statute wherein it may be employed. . . ."  Cady v. Kerr, 11 Wn. (2d) 1, 10, 118 P. (2d) 182 (1941).

            These terms appear in § 6, chapter 236, Laws of 1951 in the following context:

            "Every workman whose injury results in the loss of one or more limbs or eyes shall be provided with proper artificial substitutes to be purchased by the department at the expense of the accident fund. . . . Every workman, whose accident results in damage to or destruction of an artificial limb, eye or tooth, shall have same repaired or replaced at the expense of the accident fund.  All mechanical appliances necessary in the treatment of an injured workman, such as braces, belts, casts and crutches, may be provided at the expense of the medical aid fund and all mechanical appliances required as permanent equipment after treatment has been completed shall be provided at the expense of the accident fund. . . ." (cf. RCW 51.36.020)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            It is apparent, after reading the first sentence of the quoted portion of the law that the terms "artificial substitutes" as used therein includeonly artificial eyes or limbs.

            The terms "mechanical appliances" appear twice in the law in the following context:

            "All mechanical appliances necessary in the treatment of an injured workman, such as braces, belts, casts and crutches may be provided at the expense of themedical aid fund and all mechanical appliances required as permanent equipment after treatment has been completed shall be provided at the expense of theaccident fund."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            It is our opinion that the terms as used in this context do not include artificial eyes or dentures.  Our opinion is based in part upon the ejusdem generis principle of statutory interpretation.

            ". . . The principle requires that general terms appearing in a statute in connection with precise, specific terms, shall be accorded meaning and effect only to the extent that the general terms suggest items or things similar to those designated by the precise or specific terms.  In other words, the precise terms modify, influence or restrict the interpretation or application of the general terms where both are used in sequence or collocation in legislative enactments. . . ."  State v. Thompson, 38 Wn. (2d) 774, 777, 232 P. (2d) 87 (1951).

            See alsoState ex rel Gilroy v. Superior Court, King County, 37 Wn. (2d) 926, 932, 226 P. (2d) 882 (1951).

            Applying the principle ofejusdem generis, the phrase "necessary in the treatment of an injured workman, such as braces, belts, casts and crutches" limits the meaning of the general terms "mechanical appliances" to items of a similar nature.  The qualifying phrase establishes a category of like items which may be considered "mechanical appliances."

            The apparent reason for employing the terms "mechanical appliances" twice in this statute is to designate the source of the funds from which the appliances are to be supplied.  If the appliances are supplied during treatment, the cost will be borne by the medical aid fund.  If the appliances are supplied after treatment has been completed, the accident fund will bear the cost.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            In answer to your third question, and in view of the changes made in the law by the 1951 legislature, as discussed in AGO 53-55 No. 277, it is our opinion that in cases of injury occurring subsequent to June 1951, artificial eyes may be repaired or replaced when they are worn to the extent of being unserviceable.

            Your fourth question is concerned with injuries occurring prior to 1951 and whether repair or replacement may be made where the substitute or appliance is worn to the extent of being unserviceable or only where the substitute or appliance requires repair or replacement as the result of treatment after aggravation of the injury.  It is our opinion that in cases of injury occurring prior to June 1951, artificial eyes may not be repaired or replaced when they are worn to the extent of being unserviceable.  The basis of our opinion is contained in AGO 53-55 No. 277.

            However, as we reasoned in our answer to question 1 (c), if there is an aggravation of the injury requiring treatment and, as a result of such treatment, the artificial substitute or the mechanical appliance requires repair or replacement, it may be repaired or replaced.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

MARCUS M. KELLY
Assistant Attorney General

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