In a case involving the exacerbation of a claimant’s preexisting lower back condition by an injury sustained at work, both the arbitrator and the Commission awarded the claimant extensive benefits. See Claimant proves work accident aggravated his back condition. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law Bulletin, Volume 29, Issue 11, August 13, 2021, page 2. The case discussed in the article, Byrne v. Southwest Airlines, 29 ILWCLB 111 (Ill. W.C. Comm. 2021), involved a claimant who, while employed as a baggage handler at an airport, injured his lower back while attempting to move something that, unbeknownst to him, had become stuck to the ground. The claimant was known to have severe back issues before his accident, and after the accident, was diagnosed with a degenerative disc condition, including a bulging disc, for which the clamant underwent an extensive and lengthy surgical operation in which several procedures were performed, including a discectomy and a lumbar fusion. The claimant’s treating physician testified that the claimant’s work accident caused his back condition to worsen and become acute, as did the reviewing doctors retained by the claimant’s employer. The arbitrator agreed with the conclusions of the various aforesaid doctors, and under a “chain-of-events” rationale, held that the work incident caused the claimant’s resulting injuries, including the need for the claimant to undergo the aforementioned comprehensive surgery as well. However, while the employer’s examining physicians believed that the claimant’s back problems became acute after his work accident, and were exacerbated by it, the employer tried to muddy the waters, by asserting that the claimant’s condition was caused by the gradual deterioration of his back area, as well as two nonwork-related car accidents, one of which had taken place over three decades earlier. However, the arbitrator was unconvinced by the employer’s gambit, especially since none of the claimant’s injuries in those aforesaid auto accidents were to his lower back. The arbitrator was instead swayed and moved by the well-reasoned opinions of the testifying physicians, which understandably carried more weight with the arbitrator. As a result, the arbitrator awarded the claimant hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses and bills, as well as permanent disability benefits based on a 25% loss of use of the person as a whole. The employer appealed, but upon review, the Commission affirmed (and adopted) the arbitrator’s decision.
This case demonstrates the continued value of reliable and respected medical testimony, especially in cases involving questions and issues of aggravation of claimants’ preexisting health conditions by workplace accidents.
Claimant proves work accident aggravated his back condition. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law Bulletin, Volume 29, Issue 11, August 13, 2021, page 2.