Our Tuscaloosa workers’ compensation attorneys recognize that when insurers and/or employers can’t refute the seriousness of the injury, they may attempt to argue the source.
When old work injuries are exacerbated by new work injuries, they are compensable. Even when a non-related injury is exacerbated by a work injury, it may be compensable, but the amount you can collect could be diminished.
The determination of the degree to which an injury is compensable isn’t necessarily arbitrary – it is based heavily on expert witness testimony, medical documentation and witness statements. However, it is often subjective, which is why it’s important to have an attorney who is experienced in arguing these cases.
In the recent case of Waters v. All Phase Const., the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the industrial commission’s decision the worker had sustained a compensable permanent partial impairment beyond 12 percent. Whatever degree to which he was additionally impaired, the court ruled, was a result of non-work-related injuries.
This was a man who in 2006 worked as a drywall hanger and taper. He was helping a supervisor hang drywall overhead, when the supervisor told him to push the drywall up with his head. As he did so, he felt a sharp pain shoot through his neck and shoulder. He sought medical care from a chiropractor. When this did not help, he was recommended for surgery. His employer at that time did no dispute that the surgery was necessary because of an injury the claimant had sustained at work.
After surgery, the doctor noted in follow-up exams that the patient had minimal pain and numbness, and he was released to return to work with a 45-pound lifting restriction. A few months later, the doctor released him for work without restrictions, except those involving “axial activities,” like diving or gymnastics.
He returned to his job hanging drywall. However, he reportedly had problems keeping up. He was laid off. He sought other employment, but was unsuccessful.
Later that year, he was in a car accident and sustained a whiplash injury to his neck as a result of being rear-ended. The next year, he tripped while running and hurt his right shoulder. Both times, he was treated at the local emergency room.
When he later sought treatment for pain to his right shoulder, his doctor determined that noted weakness and nerve injury were likely a result of his work accident.
At that point, the claimant sought permanent partial disability benefits from his former employer. At the hearing before the industrial commission. the worker presented testimony from his doctor, as well as a vocational rehabilitation consultant. Although both testified that the injuries were likely sustained in the industrial accident, neither had been provided with medical records regarding that accident.
The primary question was whether the man’s injuries were the result of his car accident, his fall or the work accident. The commission determined the worker had failed to prove the injuries were the result of the work accident to any degree beyond 12 percent, which had already been paid after his initial workers’ compensation claim.
The claimant appealed, but the state supreme court affirmed the earlier rulings, finding no reversible error. The court noted that the commission is free to determine how much weight and credibility should be given to a medical expert. Here, the court found that the medical experts hadn’t reviewed all the necessary information in order to make an informed decision as to causation of the injuries.
Waters v. All Phase Const., March 18, 2014, Idaho Supreme Court