Aggravation of Pre-Existing Condition Covered Under Workers’ Compensation

In order to obtain workers’ compensation benefits in North Carolina, employees must prove the source of their injury or disability stemmed either in whole or large part from their job functions. backinjury.jpg

In some cases, it’s a singular, traumatic incident, such as a slip and fall or a motor vehicle accident. Other times, it may be a chronic condition that is aggravated by duties carried out on the job.

In the recent case of Myers v. Ben Mynatt Chevrolet Cadillac, reviewed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, the court weighed an appeal from an employer who argued that a worker’s compensation claim stemmed from a prior injury that was not work-related.

With respect to causation, the North Carolina Supreme Court has held that if an employment-related incident is not the sole cause of the injury, the burden of proof rests with the worker to prove that the work-related accident was a causal factor in the injury. The standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence, which means that the evidence more likely than not supports the claim.

The Myers case involves a technician employed at a car dealership/service center. In the summer of 2010, the worker reported that he was helping to adjust a light in the rear of a pick-up truck. While he was stretching to lift the light, he reportedly felt an extreme amount of pressure on his back, followed by a “pop” sensation that was accompanied by nearly paralyzing pain.

Right away, he notified his supervisor of the injury, and was seen later that day by a family physician for mid-back pain. The doctor ordered spinal x-rays, as well as an MRI. Based on the results of those tests, the doctor diagnosed the plaintiff with central disc protrusion, resulting in pressure on the spinal cord. He was placed on work restrictions until therapy could be completed.

He was placed on short-term disability during this time. When he returned to work a few months later, he was given steroid injections to prevent flare-ups. Following each of these injections, he was ordered to be out of work for several days at a time.

Defendants, in fighting the workers’ compensation claim, stated that the plaintiff had reported back pain to his doctor – including “pops” in his back – prior to the injury. Further, medical documents indicated that the plaintiff had a history of his back “going in and out.”

Pain medications had previously been prescribed, but there were no specific issues, such as a herniated disc, diagnosed by the doctor. At no time prior to the August 2010 injury did the plaintiff request leave from work, despite the fact that his work often required heavy lifting.

The North Carolina Industrial Commission granted the plaintiff’s request for compensation for his missed work days, medical expenses and permanent partial disability.

An appeal from the employer resulted in minor modifications, but the employer was still required to pay all medical expenses, as well as temporary total disability at a rate of $730 weekly, plus pay for the additional days he was out due to the steroid injections.

The appellate court ultimately determined that the findings of causation were supported by the extensive medical documentation. Further, they underscored that aggravation of a pre-existing condition resulting in the loss of capacity to earn wages is compensable under state law, specifically under the 1999 ruling in Smith v. Champian Int’l.

If you have been injured at work in North Carolina, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Myers v. Ben Mynatt Chevrolet Cadillac, Sept. 17, 2013, North Carolina Court of Appeals, Appeal by Defendant from North Carolina Industrial Com sion

More Blog Entries
Workplace Injuries a Common Threat in Carolinas, Nov. 22, 2013, North Carolina Work Accident Lawyer Blog

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