17-year gap in treatment undermines causation for aggravation of injury
Case name: Davenport
v. State of Wyoming, ex rel., Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division, No. S-11-0121 (Wyo. 01/12/12).
Ruling: The Wyoming Supreme Court held that a mechanic was not entitled to benefits for his back surgery that he underwent more than 20 years after his work-related back injury.
What it means: In Wyoming, a long gap in seeking treatment for an injury makes it difficult to prove a work-related aggravation of a congenital defect occurred.
Summary: A mechanic in a coal mine had a long history of back problems. He sustained two work-related back injuries for which he received benefits. Later, he had other injuries but did not complain on back pain. He also sustained back injuries in a car accident. The mechanic went to see a neurosurgeon with a complaint of back pain 24 years after his first work-related injury to his back. The surgeon noted a pars defect and spondylolisthesis. The surgeon recommended surgery, and the mechanic requested workers' compensation benefits, claiming that his surgery was a direct result of his work-related injuries from more than 20 years before. The Workers' Safety and Compensation Division denied the claim. The mechanic underwent surgery. The Wyoming Supreme Court held that the surgery was not compensable.
The court noted that the mechanic did not dispute that his injuries were congenital. Also, evidence supported a conclusion that the back conditions were congenital. After the work-related injuries, a doctor stated that the mechanic's condition was "most likely congenital." An independent medical examiner agreed. The mechanic's surgeon said his condition was often caused by trauma rather than a congenital defect, but it was hard to prove the exact cause.
The mechanic argued that his injuries and need for surgery was caused by a work-related aggravation of the congenital defect. The court disagreed, emphasizing that the mechanic did not seek treatment for his back for 17 years. He sustained other injuries in the 17-year period but did not mention back pain. The court found that the work injuries resolved long before the surgery. The court said that even if he suffered an aggravation of his preexisting congenital condition at the time of his work-related injuries, it did not necessarily mean that the aggravation caused the condition that required his surgery 24 years later.
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February 9, 2012
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