Chronic pain places first employer on the hook for manager's benefits
Case name: Stein Mart, Inc. v. Delashaw, No. 2090713 (Ala. Civ. App. 12/10/10).
Ruling: The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals held that a worker's injury was a recurrence or continuation of her original injury, making her first employer fully responsible for paying her benefits.
What it means: Under the last injurious exposure rule, the carrier covering the risk at the time of the most recent compensable injury bearing a causal relationship to the disability bears the responsibility to make the required workers' compensation payments.
A department store manager was injured when the base of a display fell on her foot. After her injury, she did not return to work at the store. She began to work at a second department store but experienced pain. The manager was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome resulting from soft tissue damage from the work injury and arthritis. The manager stated that she had consistent pain that narcotic pain medication helped to reduce. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals held that the first store was fully responsible for workers' compensation benefits due to the manager.
The first store argued that the manager's initial injury was aggravated by her work for the second store, making the second store responsible for her benefits. The court disagreed, concluding that the manager's injury was a recurrence or a continuation of her original injury. Although the manager's doctor stated that her work at the second store "independently contribute[d] and aggravated" her injuries, the court said that a physician's statement is not equivalent to a legal determination that an activity independently contributed to a disability for purposes of the last injurious exposure rule. Evidence showed that the manager suffered from continuing pain from the date of her original injury.
The first store argued that the manager should have been confined to the benefits provided under the permanent partial disability schedule. The court agreed, noting that the manager was able to work despite her pain because of the effectiveness of her pain management treatment.
The manager also argued that her foot injury resulted in an altered gait, which caused her to suffer lower back pain. The court sent the case back for the trial court to consider whether she was entitled to benefits outside the schedule for her injury or whether she was restricted to benefits provided in the schedule.
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January 27, 2011
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