Workers whose jobs have caused them to sustain repeated and worsening injuries should present a case to the North Carolina Industrial Commission that reflects the entire picture. Old work injuries can become factors in determining the extent to which a worker can be compensated for new injuries.
Our Greensboro workers' compensation lawyers know that employers will push back on these cases, arguing that each injury is separate and unrelated in the hopes of lessening their liability. However, an experienced attorney can help connect the dots for an administrative law judge by presenting documentation and medical expert testimony countering the employer's stance.
This is what happened recently in Mike Brooks, Inc. v. House, in which a workers' compensation claim made it all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court.
Court records indicate an administrative law judge determined the worker had suffered permanent total disability as a result of multiple work-related injuries. A district court affirmed this ruling, but the appellate court reversed it. Then, the state supreme court later reversed the appellate finding, once again deciding in favor of the worker.
The employee in question had made a career as a commercial truck driver. The record reveals that in 2002, he was involved in a crash that resulted in injuries to his shoulder, neck and cheek bone. Two years later, he again injured his neck while attempting to push a large tire onto a rack. He filed a workers' compensation claim based on a finding of 26 percent industrial disability.
He returned to work after that, and in 2005, began working for the company that later became a party to his workers' compensation lawsuit. Two years after he started working for this firm, he slipped and fell in an icy parking lot while retrieving cargo from the back of his truck. The result of his fall was a serious back injury. He had to undergo surgery and physical therapy, though he was eventually allowed to return to work with significant restrictions. Later, he returned to work with no restrictions, though he was deemed to have a lingering disability rating of 5 percent.
His back pain continued for many months, with him disclosing to his supervisors that it was "tearing me up" and he was placed on pain medications. Several months later, as he pushed open a heavy door while at work, he felt an immediate burning in his back, as if he had been stabbed by a hot poker.
Doctors noted possible nerve damage. After ordering an MRI, his doctor advised him to stop working. Several surgeries were performed on the worker's back in order to fuse his spine.
By the following summer, he was given the green light to return to work, but with significant restrictions on bending, twisting and lifting. He was rated at 23 percent impairment. The worker never returned to work for that particular company.
He filed a petition for workers' compensation benefits, Two doctors testified at an administrative law hearing that his injury slipping and falling on the ice was a "substantial contributing factor" to all of the back problems for which he had been subsequently treated.
The administrative law judge agreed, finding that the worker had sustained permanent total disability and rejecting the employer's assertion that the later injury involving the heavy door was separate and distinct. He also rejected the employer's claim that the injuries he incurred while working for his previous employer were far more significant.
The administrative law judge's decision was upheld by the district court. However, the appellate court found that the testifying experts lacked critical information regarding the worker's older injuries.
The Iowa Supreme Court reversed, finding that the district court's ruling was "supported by substantial evidence when the record is viewed as a whole."
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