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Frith v. WSI – Proving Substantial Acceleration of Existing Condition by Work Injury

On Behalf of | May 20, 2014 | Georgia Workers' Compensation |

Generally, workers are not barred from collecting workers’ compensation benefits simply because they suffer from a preexisting condition.Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers do recognize, however, that these claims tend to be more complicated. Benefits are only intended for workers who were hurt on the job, so proving causation is going to be a hurdle in these cases. Defendants may argue that the condition existed prior to the work accident, and therefore shouldn’t be compensable. Alternately, they may assert the new injury was more greatly predicated on the old condition, rather than anything that happened at work. This is why you will need an experienced lawyer.

Workers’ compensation will sometimes cover preexisting conditions – but only if you can show that substantial acceleration or worsening of that condition was a direct result of a work-related accident or duty. Failure to do so may result in denial of your claim.

That’s what happened recently in Frith v. WSI, reviewed by the North Dakota Supreme Court. Although workers’ compensation law varies from state-to-state, the same legal principles are applicable here in Georgia.

The plaintiff worked for an industrial equipment and supply company. He claimed he had hurt his back while at work in the course of moving a large desk backwards up a flight of stairs.

Within a few months, the claim reached the state review board, where it was rejected on the gounds that he had not proven his back injury was causally related to a work injury or that his work activities had substantially contributed to the progression or worsening of the severity of his preexisting spinal condition. Medical records cited by the board indicated that the plaintiff had many of the symptoms he attributed to the work accident well before that incident occurred.

A doctor testifying on behalf of the employer indicated that the employee’s bulging disks were a manifestation of a degenerative disease. His opinion was the condition was not related to a work injury, and that his substantial back pain had existed before he began working at the company.

Emergency room records of treatments for previous back injuries concluded with ongoing physical therapy sessions. At one doctor visit a few months prior to the accident, he told his physician that he “never feels completely well” and has “chronic back pain.”

While the state board did not deny he had sustained an injury at work while moving the desk, the conclusion was the greater weight of evidence revealed his pain and disability were the result of the underlying condition. Further, the board indicated that there was no indication that there had been a substantial change or worsening of his symptoms following the work injury.

This decision was upheld by the district court and the the state supreme court, both of which determined the findings were supported by the evidence. This case drives home the great importance in proving causation, and establishing that work accidents and/or activities played a significant role.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-920-4708 .