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Nichols v. Fairway Bldg Prods. – Proving Causation of Work Injury

It’s not uncommon in Georgia workers’ compensation claims for employers or insurers to dispute causation in order to avoid having to pay the claim. This is especially true in cases where the worker was seriously injured and may require temporary total disability payments or some type of permanent disability payments, partial or total.forklift

Proving causation does not mean you have to show that you never before suffered injury to the body part in question. Rather, it means that those prior injuries or conditions are not the primary cause of the ailments of your claim. If a work-related accident or incident exacerbates a previous injury, it can be considered causative, particularly if the worker was able to do his or her job just fine prior to that.

In the recent case of Nichols v. Fairway Bldg. Prods., the question of causation was a main focus. The claimant sought workers’ compensation for an on-the-job back injury that required several surgeries. He asserted that he was totally and permanently disabled and his doctor claimed, with a reasonable amount of medical certainty, that the cause was his work injury, a forklift accident.

Defendant employer sought to undercut his claims by presenting evidence of previous injuries, including:

  • A motor vehicle accident in 1994 that required treatment for his neck and mid-lumbar spine area;
  • Treatment in 2002 for back pain stemming from a “bouncy seat” on a forklift;
  • Treatment for a back injury in 2006 after plaintiff suffered a slip-and-fall injury while stepping off a forklift.

Plaintiff testified before the commission that he didn’t remember any of those incidents, and they hadn’t caused him any lasting, long-term pain. The incident he insisted caused his injury occurred in 2012 while he was operating a forklift in the course and scope of employment with the defendant employer.

The hydraulic lift dock that supported the forklift collapsed, causing claimant to suddenly drop about eight inches. He sought medical treatment that same day and complained of “piercing” lower back and mid-back pain, which he said had been plaguing him for several hours. Emergency medical personnel conducted an X-ray, but didn’t uncover any abnormalities. They prescribed him pain medication and instructed him to limit his bending, twisting, and lifting, as well as take over-the-counter pain relief medication as needed.

But his pain didn’t subside. He testified that over the next several months, his systems were not only persistent but worsening. The pain gradually radiated to his legs, causing him frequent and urgent urinary movements, which were also very painful. He tried hard to work through the pain since at the time he was embroiled in a child custody dispute and was afraid that if he stopped working he might lose custody of his children.

About six months after the accident, he underwent an MRI, which revealed numerous bulging and ruptured discs, at which point he was referred to a specialist. That specialist noted the cause of the injury was the forklift accident. After trying several non-surgical solutions, including physical therapy, he underwent several surgeries.

Although his pain improved slightly, the relief was not lasting. Two years after the accident, he reached maximum medical improvements, with his doctor asserting he was permanently and totally disabled, and that the 2012 work accident had either caused or permanently aggravated it. However, when he filed a workers’ compensation claim, his employer disputed it.

Both sides presented conflicting evidence at trial, but the court found the plaintiff’s evidence more compelling, specifically because it went back more than 12 years and showed the other injuries had not resulted in a need for extensive or long-term medical care the way the injury in 2012 had.

That decision was recently affirmed by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.

Additional Resources:

Nichols v. Fairway Bldg. Prods., Sept. 2, 2016, Nebraska Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Medical Worker’s Family Fights for Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits, Aug. 26, 2016, Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog