February 24, 2020

New Job Injury Triggers Related Medical Problems – What is Compensable?

North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer Dan Deuterman recently wrote about one of his cases, Clark vs. WalMart, that ended up in the North Carolina Supreme Court. Although the Clark case arose under North Carolina law, there are implications for Georgia workers’ compensation claimants.

Mrs. Clark, a 64 year old lady, worked as a greeter at WalMart. She injured herself while attempting to move a decorative sled while standing on a 10 foot ladder. Ms. Clark had previously been diagnosed with osteoporosis. After initially accepting the claim, WalMart cut Ms. Clark off, arguing that Ms. Clark was not entitled to presume that her on-going back pain was solely the result of her job injury given the pre-existing osteoporosis.

The North Carolina Supreme Court agreed with WalMart that Ms. Clark, as the injured employee, had the burden of proving that her on-going disability arose from her job injury and remanded the case back to the North Carolina Industrial Commission (which is roughly equivalent to the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation). The Industrial Commission ruled that Ms. Clark was permanently disabled and that WalMart had to pay for her medical care, including spine care associated with osteoporosis.

This case highlights an issue that we often see here in Georgia. Often our client’s work injury is not the only medical problem afflicting him or her. Sometimes, our client has a pre-existing medical problem (one known to the employer) that makes recovery from the new on-the-job injury more time-consuming or complicated. Sometimes an unknown medical problem will arise due to the stress and shock of a sudden work injury.

Employers and their insurers will attempt to limit the medical treatment to the specific work injury and will refuse to pay for medical treatment that is not directly related. As you might imagine this stance creates issues as often the “other” medical problem limits healing or affects treatment. Certainly, in Mrs. Clark’s case, her job injury at WalMart did not cause her osteoporosis, but the osteoporosis most definitely affected her healing and the extent of her recovery.

As is the case in North Carolina, disputes between employers and their insurers about what constitutes compensable care ends up before workers’ compensation judges.

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Jodi Ginsberg

Attorney Jodi Ginsberg represents employees who are injured on the job and who need medical care and missed wage benefits available under Georgia's workers' compensation laws.

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