Unrelated Accident Doesn’t Break Causal Connection Chain

Case name: Nickens v. Continental Tire North America Inc.,

15 ILWCLB 256 (Ill.W.C. Comm 2007).

Ruling: The Commission held that the claimant’s current condition of ill-being although only partly attributable to a work accident was compensable under the WCA. Accordingly, the Commission awarded 57 weeks of temporary total disability , $43,017 for necessary medical expenses and permanent disability under Section 8(d)2 for a 4 percent loss of use of the person as a whole.

What it means: A treating doctor’s opinion that a claimant’s current condition is attributable to a work related accident and a subsequent injury unrelated to work is sufficient to establish liability under the WCA.

Summary: The claimant injured her lower back at work on Sept 14, 2003, when she threw a 50 pound tire into a buggy. She denied any lower back pain or radiating pain prior to this accident. She returned to work on Sept. 29, 2003, and reported that she felt better until she carried some groceries and helped her son dismantle a wheelchair ramp. She complained of her “new pain” in her back and down her left leg. She could not return to work. An MRI revealed degenerative changes and a bulging disk. She underwent physical therapy, a TENS unit trial, and facet injections, and she was released to work on Oct. 20, 2004. The claimant’s treating doctor opined that the claimant’s current condition was attributable to the work accident and the non-work related injury 15 days later. However, the defendant’s Section 12 examining doctor opined that on Sept 14, 2003 while at work the claimant sustained a myofascial strain to the lumbosacral spine, which had completely resolved. The examiner testified that the claimant’s current back and radicular symptoms were attributable to a preexisting degenerative disease and the non-work related injury. The Commission held that the claimant proved a causal connection between the work accident and her current condition of ill-being. In so holding, the Commission gave greater weight to the opinion of the treating doctor. Because the claimant’s condition was attributable to both the work accident and the unrelated injury, the claimant’s condition was compensable under the WCA. Accordingly, the Commission awarded temporary total disability, medical expenses and permanent partial disability benefits

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