Worker demonstrates her work injury contributed to psychological disability
Case name: Sickmiller v. Timberland Forest Products, Inc., No. SD32257 (Mo. Ct. App. 07/18/13).
Ruling: The Missouri Court of Appeals held that a worker was entitled to permanent total disability benefits and reimbursement of past medical expenses and future medical care.
What it means:
In Missouri, to establish entitlement to permanent total disability benefits, a worker must show that the work-related injury was the primary factor in causing her disability, not the sole factor.
A worker was lifting an empty pallet when her back "popped" and her lower abdomen started hurting. She suffered from preexisting depression and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. She was diagnosed with a lumbosacral strain and an abdominal wall strain. She was discharged to return to work without limitations, but she still experienced pain. The employer denied her claim for additional medical care. The worker was also treated for worsening depression.
Later, the employer agreed to authorize treatment for the worker's back pain but denied temporary total disability benefits. The Missouri Court of Appeals held that the worker was permanently and totally disabled and was entitled to reimbursement of past medical expenses and future medical care.
The employer did not dispute that the worker was permanently and totally disabled but argued that the work injury was not the prevailing factor in causing the disability. The court found substantial evidence that the work injury contributed to the worker's psychological disability. The worker said that the work injury caused stress and a significant weight gain, contributed to the deterioration of her marriage, and caused her recurrent depression and crying spells. Nearly every medical expert opined that the work injury caused some additional psychological disability.
Regarding her past medical expenses, the worker provided medical records and bills documenting her epidural treatment and psychiatric hospitalizations. A doctor opined that her psychiatric hospitalizations were necessary to treat the effects of her work injury. The court concluded that the medical care and treatment was reasonably required to relieve the effects of the injury.
The court also found that the worker showed a reasonable probability that she required further medical treatment because of her work injury. Her doctors reported that she would need psychological treatment and ongoing care to treat her back pain.
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October 14, 2013
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