Wingfield v. Hill Bros. Transp. – Proving Legal and Medical Causation in Work Injuries

Work injury compensation claims don’t necessarily have to involve a one-off incident. In some cases, they can be made concerning chronic conditions or illnesses – sometimes even preexisting ones, so long as it can be shown that causation or exacerbation arose out of the scope and course of employment.
For example, a person who sits at a keyboard all day for their job might be able to present a strong case that a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome is a direct result of repetitive motion at work.

However, in cases where medical conditions were preexisting, our Spartanburg workers’ compensation lawyers know the burden of proof is going to be higher. It must be shown that work conditions or duties significantly contributed to the injury or ailment.

In Wingfield v. Hill Bros. Transp., Inc., a trucker in Nebraska attempted to argue that a heart attack stemming from a combination of a pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis (both types of blood clotting, with serious and potentially fatal outcomes) was the direct result of his employment.

In these cases, the Nebraska Supreme Court pointed out that it in order for a claim to be successful, an employee must prove both legal and medical causation.

The claimant filed a workers’ compensation claim indicating that he was typically required to work 10 hours daily in a seated position. He worked this job for 35 years, though he had only worked for this particular employer for one month prior to the incident in question. The court was presented with evidence revealing that blood clot formations deep within the veins, which can lead to heart attacks, can be prompted by prolonged periods of sitting.

One evening, the trucker parked his rig and went to sleep. He awoke the next morning not feeling well. He told dispatch he needed to go home for a few days. As time wore on, he began to develop chest pains. He went to the doctor’s office and was hospitalized. He was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis and the presence of a pulmonary embolism.

He was required to have a filter implanted in order to prevent future pulmonary embolisms. Still, he continued to experience leg and feet swelling, blood clots behind his knees, leg sores, pain in his legs, shortness of breath and trouble standing and sitting for long stretches. He returned to work, but had to take frequent breaks to walk around and exercise.

However, he quit later that year after suffering a fall from his rig in which he injured his lower back. He later filed a workers’ compensation claim against his employer, citing his clotting condition.

However, it was revealed to the court that he had been diagnosed with the exact same condition twice prior, including most recently a month before he started working for the company against which he was filing his claim.

Therefore, the compensation court dismissed his claims, reasoning he hadn’t sufficiently proven his condition was substantially worsened by his current employer. In fact, although he’d been prescribed anticoagulation medication in prior visits with the doctor, his clotting levels at his most recent doctor visit indicated he wasn’t taking the medication as prescribed.

The court noted that in order to prove that an employer is responsible for medical causation in heart-related injuries, claimants have to show that stress or exertion in the course of employment was a significant factor in the condition. However, this plaintiff wasn’t taking his medication, doctors testified, which left them inclined to believe that was the bigger factor in his condition worsening. His claim was denied.

This decision was appealed, but was later upheld by the state supreme court.

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

Additional Resources:
Wingfield v. Hill Bros. Transp., Inc., May 16, 2014, Nebraska Suprem Court

More Blog Entries
Restaurant Worker Slip-and-Falls in South Carolina, May 2, 2014, Spartanburg Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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