Safety and OSHA News

Injured worker says hip surgery caused back pain: Will workers’ comp pay for that?

This injured worker says he suffered hip and back pain. Why does his employer only want workers’ comp to cover the hip injury? How did a court rule? 

On Jan. 25, 2012, Donald Jobe tripped due to a gap between two rubber floor mats while working on the assembly line at Ford Motor Company’s Louisville, KY, plant.

Jobe said when he tripped he felt a popping sensation in his right hip. Shortly afterward, Jobe began to feel right hip pain. A series of doctors were unable to diagnose the cause of his hip pain.

A hip specialist believed Jobe’s problems stemmed from a low back condition. Jobe saw a surgeon in September 2012 who said Jobe suffered a work-related injury which resulted in persistent back and hip pain. (Later, the surgeon contradicted this statement on an FMLA form that said Jobe’s low back condition was not due to his occupation.) The surgeon operated on Jobe’s back in March 2013, but he continued to feel pain in his hip and back.

After his back surgery, Jobe had hip surgery in February 2014. The surgery on his right hip substantially improved his condition.

As you can imagine, Jobe missed a certain amount of work due to his medical journey. He did eventually return to work at Ford permanently and without restrictions in July 2014.

Before his return to work, Jobe had an independent medical evaluation in June 2014. The doctor who performed the IME said Jobe’s low back problem was work-related. The doctor said it was possible for low back problems to present as hip pain. The doctor also noted there could have been degenerative changes in Jobe’s back which were dormant before his work injury but were triggered by his trip-and-fall on the rubber floor mats.

An administrative law judge awarded Jobe permanent partial disability benefits for his hip and back injuries and temporary total disability benefits for the periods Jobe was off work.

Ford appealed the ALJ’s ruling to the Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Board, arguing it shouldn’t be liable for Jobe’s back condition. Ford argued Jobe would have had back surgery regardless of the work-related hip injury. The Board affirmed the ALJ’s ruling, as did a state appeals court. Recently, the Kentucky Supreme Court heard Ford’s appeal.

Ford argued the ALJ failed to find a connection between Jobe’s work at Ford and his back condition. The Kentucky Supreme Court said, “That is simply not the case.”

The car company said Jobe’s back surgery was an intervening cause of his impairment which would mean his workers’ comp claims for back injuries were non-compensable. Once again, the state’s highest court said that wasn’t the case.

The court said Jobe followed his doctor’s recommended course of treatment for his hip pain when he underwent back surgery. And the ALJ used medical evidence from his doctors to decide that workers’ comp should cover Jobe’s back injury. Therefore, the decision was affirmed: Jobe would receive workers’ comp benefits for his back injury as well as his hip injury.

(Ford Motor Co. v. Donald Jobe, Supreme Court of Kentucky, No. 2017-SC-10-WC, 4/26/18)

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