Aggravation of assistant's preexisting condition leads to benefits
Courier Printing Co. v. Sims ex rel. Bly et al., No. M2010-01279-WC-R3-WC (Tenn. 07/15/11).
The Tennessee Supreme Court held that an assistant was entitled to benefits for his permanent and total disability to his back.
What it means: In Tennessee, a medical impairment rating registry physician can give an opinion as to the cause of a worker's injury.
Summary: A bindery assistant for a printing company said he had back pain after he bent over at work. He resigned from his job, alleging that he was no longer able to perform his job due to the pain. An orthopedic surgeon found no evidence of an acute injury and diagnosed him with degenerative disk disease. The assistant had intellectual disabilities from birth, including autism. The assistant was able to sign and read his name but was otherwise illiterate. The assistant's aunt said she did not believe he was able to work. The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the assistant was permanently and totally disabled and entitled to benefits.
In an issue of first impression, the court decided that it could consider a medical impairment rating registry physician's opinion as to the cause of the assistant's injury. However, the physician's opinion on matters other than the degree of impairment did not have a presumption of correctness.
The court explained that the assistant's job required frequent lifting, bending, and twisting. According to the surgeon, these activities can cause preexisting spinal degeneration to become symptomatic and accelerate its course. The assistant's personal physician also acknowledged that his condition was likely to be aggravated by his work.
The court said that even at optimal health, the assistant was limited to a narrow range of jobs due to his inability to read or write, his ability to perform only simple tasks, and his difficulties in interacting with members of the public and coworkers due to his autism. Even a small reduction in his ability to perform physical labor dramatically decreased the number of employment opportunities available to him. The assistant and his aunt said he could not perform physical labor on a regular basis.
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September 19, 2011
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