Saying it was undisputed that exposure to vog aggravated a man's health condition while he worked as technology coordinator at Lahainaluna High School, the state Supreme Court has ordered a state board to determine how much he should be awarded for a workers' compensation claim.
In an opinion for publication filed Thursday, the court vacated a September 2011 Labor and Industrial Relations Appeal Board decision denying compensation for Lynedon Van Ness. The court also vacated a state Intermediate Court of Appeals judgment in January 2013 that affirmed the board decision.
The high court opinion, written by Justice Richard Pollock, said that "the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrated that Van Ness's exposure to vog at work, combined with the surrounding circumstances of his employment and his pre-existing condition, resulted in the exacerbation of his asthma."
Van Ness, who had a history of mild persistent asthma, worked as technology coordinator at Lahainaluna from July 2005 to November 2006, when the Department of Education transferred him to Oahu.
At Lahainaluna, he was responsible for maintaining and repairing technical equipment for the school of 1,000 students and 50 staff members.
His office was located in the school library, which was at the highest point of the campus, and the job required him to repeatedly climb up and down stairs to service classroom computers on the lower parts of campus. The difference in elevation on the campus was described as a couple hundred feet.
Although his office was air conditioned, Van Ness estimated that he spent less than 5 percent of his seven- to eight-hour workday on campus.
According to the high court opinion, "there was evidence that the vog on Maui was particularly severe around December 2005." A doctor "recommended that Van Ness be transferred out of Maui because of his asthma condition, which is exacerbated by vog."
Van Ness, who lived in an air-conditioned home in Kihei, reported experiencing shortness of breath and wheezing, which had worsened when he moved to Maui.
In denying Van Ness' claim, the labor board found that the hazard he faced from vog exposure "was no greater hazard or risk than that faced by others off of the campus."
But the Supreme Court said the board didn't properly consider Van Ness' pre-existing health condition "and the fact that the general public was not exposed to vog in the same manner as Van Ness."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.