Case name: Vawter v. Volunteer Management Development, No. W2012-00471-SC-WCM-WC (Tenn. 02/13/13, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that a bookkeeper was entitled to workers' compensation benefits for the aggravation of her preexisting arthritis.
What it means: In Tennessee, an employer is liable for a disability that arises out of and in the course of a worker's employment even if the injury merely aggravated a prior condition.
Summary: A bookkeeper for a real estate management company had rheumatoid arthritis for 20 years but did not experience problems from her condition before she worked for the company. Her job consisted of data entry for six to seven days per week, eight to 12 hours per day. She was eventually terminated because she could no longer perform her job duties. She sought workers' compensation benefits. The Tennessee Supreme Court held that she was entitled to benefits for the aggravation of her preexisting arthritis.
An orthopedic surgeon testified that the bookkeeper's arthritic problems were "most likely" present before she started working for the company. The surgeon stated that her work activities made her condition "more symptomatic and painful." He explained that repetitive hand motion irritated her preexisting rheumatoid arthritis, resulting in bleeding in the joint, which increased pain and stiffness. The court found that the surgeon's testimony supported a finding that the bookkeeper's work aggravated her preexisting arthritis. The other medical evidence either supported the company's theory that there was no work-related aggravation or was neutral.
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June 3, 2013
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