17 Years of Hard Living Cast Doubt on old Injury's Link to Current Disability

                               

Jackson, WY (WorkersCompenstaion.Com)—In Wyoming, an employee seeking permanent total disability benefits must, in certain circumstances, provide medical evidence that his work-related injury caused his inability to work.

As one case shows, that evidence is crucial if the employee is to make his case when many years, and multiple jobs, have passed since the original injury. Genner v. State of Wyoming, No S-22-0012 (Wyoming 09/29/22).

In Genner, an HVAC technician suffered a lumbar spinal strain during work in 2002. He left that job in 2004 and began working at the airport as a firefighter and airport technician.

In 2019, facing increasing spinal pain and deterioration, he sought PTD benefits.

The employee challenged the Medical Commission Hearing Panel’s determination that he was not entitled to PTD benefits because he failed to show his current inability to work was caused by his 2002 injury as an HVAC technician.

To obtain workers’ compensation benefits, the Wyoming Supreme Court explained, a worker must demonstrate that his injury was caused by his work. Wyoming law authorizes payment of PTD benefits after "certification by a physician" that the workplace injury caused the claimant's PTD.

The court added that it generally requires medical evidence to establish causation when:

1. A significant amount of time elapses between the initial workplace injury and the claim;

2. There is an intervening injury;

3. There is a preexisting condition; or

4. The claimant's symptoms and medical history are complex.

In this case, more than one of the above circumstances applied. Thus, the Medical Commission was correct to require medical evidence to show causation, the court stated.

The court pointed out that the technician was injured at work in 2002 but sought permanent partial disability benefits in 2019.

Further, the court observed, after the injury in 2002, the technician worked other jobs that required heavy lifting, although his doctor advised him to lift no more than 20 pounds. The firefighter job required him to put on heavy equipment, carry heavy hoses, perform numerous other physically strenuous tasks, and engage in difficult training exercises. To keep his job, he was required to pass a vigorous physical fitness test each year. In fact, the worker explained that “the firefighting gear weighed 35 pounds, and the 50-foot section of firehose he carried while running the two laps weighed 45-50 pounds,” the court wrote.

Altogether, the court stated, the evidence of his many years of strenuous activities indicated his 2002 injury did not cause his inability to work.

The court also noted that employee had suffered another back injury in the 1990s, before he began to work at the HVAC company.

For all those reasons, it was incumbent upon the employee to provide medical evidence showing that his lumbar injury as an HVAC technician was what caused his severe back injury and pain almost two decades later. After, all, the court observed, his pain and spinal deterioration could have been the result of aging and the 17 years of life that followed his 2002 injury.

But the technician failed to provide such evidence. The court thus upheld the Medical Commission’s ruling that the employee was not entitled to PTD benefits.


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