One of the greatest challenges for Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys is establishing for the court the origin of a client’s illness or injuries.
In some instances, this is very straightforward, as the condition arose from a single, often traumatic, incident, such as a crash or a fall.
Other times, however, a worker’s condition has the possibility of arising from more than one source, leaving the door open for employers to argue that it did not occur as a result or in the course of one’s employment. Given that this is a key point that must be proven in order to secure a claim, it’s not one that ailing workers can expect to dance around.
In some situations, proving that an existing physical condition was aggravated by one’s work can be sufficient grounds for a claim. For example, if you have COPD caused by smoking, you may still be able to claim workers’ compensation if your employment handling airborne chemicals exacerbated your condition.
But preparation is going to be critical in these types of cases.
The case of Caterpillar Logistics, Inc. v. Soli, recently reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, reveals what an uphill battle this can be.
Court records indicate that the worker in question developed a condition called epicondylitis. This is an inflammation of tendons near the elbow. The worker was employed in the packing department of her company. There, she was required to move items out of containers and put them into boxes in preparation for shipping.
There was no question that in this line of work, she was required to perform repetitive hand movements in which she repeatedly turned her wrists, shoulders and elbows. The question was whether this motion alone could have reasonably caused her condition.
The company convened a panel, which included three musculoskeletal disorder specialists. The panel reviewed guides issued by the American Medical Association, as well as the National Institute for Occupational Safety. Both of these institutions say that the epicondylitis is caused by repetitive motion but also the use of force. The institutions specifically stated that repetitive motion on its own does not cause the condition. As such, the panel submitted a final report indicating that the worker’s ailment wasn’t caused by her job.
(In this particular case, the issue was whether the employer had a responsibility to report the injury to the Department of Labor.)
The case went before an administrative law judge, who weighed both the panel’s findings, in conjunction with a number of purported expert witnesses and several case studies, as well as a single witness provided by the Secretary for the DOL. That single witness, a clinical professor of medicine at a California university, indicated that moderate repetition – even with light force – could potentially cause the worker’s condition.
Has the DOL provided anything more than this single witness, it may have been able to make a compelling argument. However, it does not seem as if the agency was well-prepared for the hearing.
Still, the administrative law judge accepted this argument.
Upon appeal, the appellate court found that the administrative law judge erred in accepting a minority view with little evidence, particularly as it was countered with numerous other purported experts and epidemiological studies on the condition.
As such, the employer ultimately prevailed in establishing that this was not a work-related condition.
If you or a loved one has been injured on the job in Georgia, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., to speak with an experienced attorney. For a free consultation call 1-404-303-7770 today.