As a part of his job, a forklift service mechanic was required to regularly lift parts weighing 150 to 200 pounds. He had previous problems with his lower back, which were treated with medication and did not prevent him from working.
The mechanic sustained an injury at work when he was repairing a forklift and his foot slipped. He began to fall. He jumped off the forklift and landed awkwardly, injuring his right hip, right leg and lower back.
The mechanic underwent surgery to replace his right hip. The mechanic sought workers'
compensation for his right hip, right leg and back. The employer admitted the mechanic's right to compensation with regard to his right hip but denied the claim as to the back injury.
In the doctor's testimony, he explained that after the surgery the mechanic had a "waddling gait," which put more stress on his spine. The mechanic's pre-existing condition had narrowed the area where the nerves exited the spine, and his change in gait resulted in further compression of the nerves. An MRI of the mechanic's spine revealed stenosis. MRIs from before the work-related fall did not show stenosis.
The doctor concluded that the mechanic's work-related fall and his subsequent altered gait resulted in an aggravation of his pre-existing back condition. The Industrial Commission agreed with the doctor's conclusion and awarded the mechanic temporary total disability benefits for his back condition.
Was the commission correct in granting benefits to the mechanic?
A. Yes. The evidence showed a causal link between the mechanic's compensable work injury and his back condition.
The mechanic's back condition was not related to his compensable hip injury.
The doctor's expert opinion was based on inaccurate assumptions regarding the mechanic's prior lower back condition.
How the court ruled: A.
The court ruled that the commission correctly decided that the mechanic was entitled to compensation for his pre-existing back condition aggravated as a direct and natural result of his work-related injury. Bolejack v. Mobilift of Burlington, Inc., No. COA09-986 (N.C. Ct. App. 07/20/10).
The court noted that the employer did not challenge the commission's finding that the mechanic's fall was sufficient to aggravate the pre-existing lower back condition. Additionally, the employer failed to challenge the finding that the fall caused the compression of nerves and that the change in the mechanic's gait could have aggravated the underlying condition.
The court concluded that the doctor's testimony, as well as the unchallenged findings of fact, provided a causal link rising to a level above mere possibility between the mechanic's compensable work injury and his back condition.
B is incorrect. The court stated that the commission's finding that the mechanic's back condition was causally related to his compensable hip injury was based on expert medical testimony.
C is incorrect. The court disagreed with the employer's argument, stating that the doctor's testimony provided competent evidence showing the mechanic's back problems were a direct and natural consequence of his work injury. The doctor testified about the difference between the mechanic's MRIs before and after the work-related fall. The doctor opined that the mechanic's back pain was related to his fall at work.
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September 22, 2010
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