Workers who suffer successive work injuries also tend to have a tougher time securing benefits, particularly if the injuries occurred under the watch of different employers.In these cases, benefits must be apportioned based on what percentage of worker’s ailments were caused by which injury. This can result in a complicated process that will involve extensive review of medical records, numerous independent exams and testimony from expert witnesses.
The case of Warren Props. v. Stewart is illustrative, having ping-ponged through various courts trying to sort out the appropriate course of action for successive injuries at separate employers. Most recently, the case was before the Iowa Supreme Court. That court held an employer who is liable to compensate a worker for a work-related injury does not have to pay for pre-existing disability that arose from employment with a different firm, or from causes unrelated to employment when the worker’s earning capacity wasn’t re-evaluated in the competitive job market prior to the successive injury and after.
According to court records, claimant worked two jobs in 2006. One of those was as an assistant property manager at a property management company. She was assigned to answer phones, show apartments to prospective renters and prepare rental agreements. She received a salary and rent allowance. Her other full-time job was as a customer service representative and assistant manager at a large chain store retailer.
In 2006, while working for the retailer, she hurt her lower back while moving shopping carts. A week later, she quit that job but did obtain medical treatment, which continued for several years. She kept her other job.
In 2008, her doctor determined she had reached maximum medical improvement with her back injury, sustaining a 10 percent permanent impairment of her whole body. A subsequent evaluation determined the same, except deemed her permanent impairment was 13 percent.
A contested case settlement with the retailer resulted in a lump sum payment of $60,000 plus another $11,000 in medical bills.
Three months before this agreement was reached, claimant, while working for property management firm, slipped on ice as she was leaving work. As a result, she experienced severe back pain that radiated down one leg, as well as pain in her shoulders and neck. She sought medical treatment.
Several months later, doctors agreed she had reached maximum medical improvement, but could not agree on whether she suffered any permanent physical impairment as a result of that fall. One indicated a 1 percent permanent impairment, while another indicated zero change. Others assigned a 10 to 13 percent rating, holding the injury had exacerbated her pre-existing disability, while still others indicated the fall had only temporarily aggravated her condition.
Deputy commissioner overseeing the case took the word of those who assigned disability, and determined she sustained a 13 percent injury as a whole, but did not assign a percentage specifically to the ice fall. Still, she was awarded benefits without an apportionment for the pre-existing condition. That decision was affirmed on appeal by the panel, but then affirmed in part, reversed in part by the district court, which found commissioner erred in failing to apportion liability for the successive injury. Case was remanded, but defendant appealed. State supreme court affirmed in part and reversed in part.
The company will not have to pay for a pre-existing disability from a different employer without a determination of apportionment of benefits.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.