An issue that comes up in many Georgia workers’ compensation cases is whether an old injury that is aggravated while on the job qualifies for benefits. In a recent workers’ compensation case, one state’s supreme court found that a judge’s decision denying workers’ compensation benefits to an employee was supported by the evidence in a case involving multiple injuries.
The Facts of the Case
Before the employee began her job at a supermarket, she had broken her ankle. A few years after she began her job at the supermarket, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic arthritis in her ankle and was told to treat her ankle at home with a brace, supports, icing, stretching, and medication. Her job required her to stand for 40 to 45 hours per week. For the next 10 years, she sometimes felt minor pain and swelling in her ankle.
Then, while working, she tripped over a pallet and twisted her right ankle. About two days later, she sought medical treatment, and the doctor found her ankle was only mildly swollen and not bruised, but x-rays showed “degenerative changes.” The doctor determined she sprained her ankle, and she continued to work at the supermarket. The employee testified that her swelling and pain worsened continuously after the injury, but the doctor noted that the employee had decreased swelling and pain at the first follow-up appointment. At the next appointment about six weeks later, she said her ankle was “about the same,” but he recorded that she had improved slightly. The employee was doing physical therapy, but soon afterward, she twisted her ankle again. Her ankle did not get better, and the doctor scheduled her for an ankle-fusion surgery.
The employee filed a workers’ compensation claim for the ankle-fusion surgery about a year after she injured her ankle at work. Her employer argued that the injury was not caused by her work injury. Both the employee and her employer filed reports from experts discussing whether her work injury aggravated or accelerated her condition. After reviewing the reports and other evidence, the workers’ compensation judge determined that the employee’s work injury was not a substantial contributing cause of the ankle-fusion surgery. The judge concluded that it was a temporary injury and that it had resolved before the surgery, relying mainly on an expert who found that there was no objective basis for finding that the employee’s work injury accelerated her arthritis condition.
On appeal, the state’s supreme court found the workers’ compensation judge’s decision was supported by substantial evidence. The workers’ compensation judge found one expert more credible than another, and it was within the judge’s discretion to do so, so the employee’s injury was not compensable.
Which Injuries Are Compensable?
A disability is compensable if a work injury “substantially aggravates, accelerates, or combines with a preexisting disease or latent condition to produce a disability.” An employee has the burden to prove that a work injury was “an appreciable or substantial contributing cause” of the disability. In cases involving multiple, recurring injuries, a judge may have to judge the case based on different experts’ opinions. As long as the judge’s determination is supported by the evidence, the decision will be upheld.
Have You Been Injured on the Job?
If you have been injured on the job or in an accident related to your work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The Georgia law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C. has decades of experience handling workers’ compensation claims and a successful track record obtaining benefits for our clients. Since our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys were insurance defense attorneys first, our office has the advantage of understanding the other side’s perspective in order to advance our clients’ cases at trial or through settlement. We provide clients with quality legal representation and responsive client service. For a free consultation, contact us at 404-920-4708 or through our online form.