Neck injuries are common in all kinds of work environments. In a recent case (Corazzini v. Chevrolet), both an insurer and a workers’ compensation claimant appealed after the worker was awarded benefits for a neck injury and his back injury was dismissed. The worker was a salesperson or manager for the insured with duties that included planting and snowplowing. In 2009, the worker was operating a front-end loader to take snow off his employer’s lot.
He slipped backward while getting off the front-end loader. He was treated at an ER and continued to work for several months. At a hearing, the insurer accepted liability for the work accident only with respect to his cervical injury. It denied liability for his other injuries. It also raised a combination injury defense.
The worker was examined by a doctor. He issued a medical report and later testified at deposition. The judge allowed the parties to submit additional medical evidence. The insurer submitted two reports from a doctor and the worker submitted a report from a doctor. The workers’ compensation judge adopted certain opinions and credited the worker’s testimony that his cervical symptoms had prevented him from working. He found the worker totally incapacitated and a causal connection to his work injury.
However, the judge rejected the worker’s claim that his lumbar condition was related to work. The worker appealed and argued the judge had erred with regard to finding no causal connection between the lumbar condition and the work injury. On of the doctors had testified there was a connection between the injury and the lumbar symptoms, but denied it was a work-related injury. The increase in symptoms didn’t require a finding of injury.
The worker argued that his work-related neck injury caused him to overuse him lumbar spine. He argued this aggravated his pre-existing lumbar condition. The Massachusetts reviewing board disagreed. He explained that Dr. Kenny’s opinion was that the plaintiff had not shown he injured his back so much as he experienced symptoms related to his pre-existing injury. The reviewing board explained that he had not opined the work injury was a major cause of his disability or need for treatment.
The Board explained that when a medical opinion testified that an aggravation of a pre-existing medical condition satisfied the ‘combination injury’ prong, the same opinion would not support the finding that a compensable injury was a major cause of the worker’s disability or need for treatment. A major cause can be found only with a medical opinion that examines the relative degree to which compensable and non-compensable causes brought about the worker’s disability. Therefore, the judge’s dismissal of the lumbar injury claim was appropriate.
The insurer argued incapacity analysis was not supported and was inconsistent with the adopted medical opinions. It found that the opinions that were adopted supported only a partial disability finding. It argued the doctor didn’t impose a 5-pound lifting restriction on the worker. It also claimed the record failed to support the judge’s finding that the worker’s job duties included frequent driving, bending and reaching.
The reviewing board explained that the judge was entitled to credit the worker’s complaints of pain to award total incapacity benefits since the doctors had opined he was partially disabled. The worker had testified as to the requirements of his job and testified his duties included driving, bending and reaching. Although a doctor had imposed a 10-pound lifting restriction, the judge also adopted another doctor’s opinion to the extent it supported the claimed incapacity associated with the neck injury. The decision was affirmed.
If you are hurt at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate whether you have a sound claim and fight to make sure that your employer and its insurer follow the rules or give you guidance if there is no insurance available. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.More Blog PostsSubmitting Additional Testimony in Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation, March 12, 2013