Similar symptoms before, after work incident undermine causation
Case name: Curran v. North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance, No. 20090260 (N.D. 12/02/10).
Ruling: The North Dakota Supreme Court held that a nurse was not entitled to benefits because she did not prove her work injury worsened her preexisting injury. A dissenting judge opined that the nurse suffered from a work-related injury that accelerated her preexisting injury.
What it means: In North Dakota, a worker is not required to show the employment was the sole cause of her injury, but she must establish a causal connection by demonstrating her employment was a substantial contributing factor to the injury.
Summary: A nurse suffered from degenerative disk disease and had prior injuries to her lower back. She alleged that while caring for a patient, she bent over quickly to pick up a bandage from the floor, and she experienced sudden lower back pain. She claimed that she had difficulty returning to an upright position because of the pain. The day after the incident, the nurse sought medical treatment. A doctor diagnosed lumbar pain and recommended physical therapy and various medications. He released her to return to work with restrictions. Over the course of the next year, the nurse received numerous medical treatments for her lower back from multiple doctors. The North Dakota Supreme Court held that the nurse was not entitled to benefits because she failed to prove the work incident worsened her preexisting injury.
The court explained that the work incident only triggered symptoms of the nurse's preexisting injury. The court noted the striking similarities between the nurse's symptoms after the work incident and a prior car accident. In visits to her doctor both before and after the work incident, the nurse complained of sharp pains connected to bending and twisting. The court also mentioned that surgeons who performed a disk replacement surgery reported that the nurse had advanced degenerative disk disease that was severe and chronic.
A dissenting judge mentioned that the nurse presented "significant medical evidence" that the work incident caused her injury and aggravated her prior condition.
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January 31, 2011
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