In the case of Evergreen Packaging Inc. v. Prather, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld an employee’s right to workers’ compensation benefits, even when the root of the injury was a pre-existing condition.Our Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers know that the key in this case was that the work performed had changed from the norm and thus aggravated an old injury. So even though the original injury was old (and in fact, a separate claim had been paid out on it several years earlier), the fact that the worker was re-injured on the job was enough to secure additional benefits.
Court documents in this case reveal that the employee first started working at the milk and juice carton manufacturer back in the mid-1970s. Then in 2002, while working in the warehouse loading trucks, he hurt his back while operating a forklift. This prevented him from working for sometime. He was granted temporary total disability benefits for a little over a month, and his employer also covered his medical expenses.
(Injuries from forklifts, by the way, account for an estimated 85 fatalities annually, as well as nearly 35,000 serious injuries and 62,000 non-serious injuries, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.)
So after this incident, the employee continued his work, though he soon applied for and received a new position as a plate maker. This position required the worker to bend all the way to floor and then lift boxes weighing between 30 to 50 pounds up over his head and into certain bins.
The two positions were quite different, both in responsibilities and in physical demand. While he said his back continued to bother him from the initial injury, it got progressively worse as he continued in his new role.
Still, he only missed a total of a week’s worth of work during that time.
But in his final two years with the company, the firm purchased a new piece of equipment that reportedly required him to bend down farther than he had before. This aggravated his back condition greatly. At times, he said, his entire backside all the way down to his feet was going numb.
In 2010, he sought medical help from a chiropractor. After four treatments, the doctor recommended he stop working and diagnosed him with degenerative disc disease that was due to an old injury that had been exacerbated by additional injuries. A second doctor recommended the same. A subsequent MRI, when compared to a similar image five years earlier, showed a significant increase in stenosis and disc extrusion. There was also an additional tear in the tissue that wasn’t there previously.
The worker was awarded disability benefits right away, but the company appealed, saying that he shouldn’t be compensated twice for the same injury. A change in condition, they argued, wouldn’t entitle the worker to a new “date of injury,” which would mean his statute of limitations to collect benefits would have already run out.
However, both the State Board of Workers’ Compensation as well as the Georgia Appellate Court sided with the worker. While a change in condition relative to the initial injury would have likely resulted in denial of benefits to the worker, the fact that he had incurred aggravation to an old injury as a result of his work meant that he was again eligible for benefits.
If you or a loved one has been injured on the job, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., to speak with an experienced attorney. For a free consultation call 1-404-303-7770 today.