Employee’s Preexisting Arthritis Doesn’t Cramp Benefits

Case name: Brown v. ABF Freight Systems Inc., 13 ILWCLB 217 (Ill. Ind. Comm. 2005).

Ruling: The Commission held that a claimant’s knee condition and need for knee replacement was causally related to work accidents, even though he had preexisting arthritis. Evidence indicated the claimant had no symptoms or treatment to the right knee before the accident, and the accidents resulted in immediate physical symptoms, prompt treatment and subsequent disability.

What it means: Although an employee has a preexisting condition which may make him more vulnerable to injury, recovery for an accidental injury will not be denied as long as it can be shown that the employment was also a causative factor.

Summary: The claimant, who had preexisting arthritis and a prior left knee injury, sustained two right knee injuries at work in July 2002. Following unsuccessful conservative treatment and a successful left knee replacement, his treating orthopedic surgeon recommended a total knee replacement of the right knee. The arbitrator found a causal connection between the July accidents and the claimant’s condition of ill-being, and the Commission affirmed. Proof of prior good health and change immediately following an injury may establish that an impaired condition was due to the injury. In the instant case, the claimant went from a state of physical condition with his knee which allowed him to work before the July 2002 injuries to a state of uninterrupted disability after that date. Even if the claimant had asymptomatic right knee problems prior to either injury, the evidence amply demonstrated that the work accidents triggered his right knee pain and impairment and led to his need for surgery and joint replacement.

The treating doctor testified that the claimant did not have instability of his right knee prior to the two accidents in July 2002. He opined that within a reasonable degree of medical and surgical certainty the two injuries in July 2002 aggravated the claimant’s preexisting arthritis and accelerated his knee replacement because of its instability and the danger of repeated falls and noted that all conservative measures had been exhausted.

The claimant testified without contradiction that he had no problem with his right knee prior to July 2002. No evidence was presented by lay testimony from the employer or by impeachment through medical records of prior treatment that the right knee problems manifested to a significant degree prior to the July accidents. This evidence is further corroborated by the histories the claimant gave his treating surgeon and the company’s Section 12 examiner. Ever since the injuries, he has had constant right knee problems, notwithstanding conservative care and arthroscopic intervention.