A worker injures his knee on the job and as a result received physical therapy (PT). While taking a short break from a PT session, he’s struck by a car in a parking lot, injuring his other knee. Is the second injury work-related, and will he get workers’ comp benefits for it?
Here’s what happened.
Jan Williams injured his knee while working as a mechanic for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). He had PT for the knee injury. Doctors recommended he take a more intensive form of PT called work hardening, which was covered by workers’ comp.
On the next to last day of the work hardening program, Williams walked to his truck during a lunch break and ate his lunch. After he finished eating, Williams was walking through the parking lot to return for another work hardening session when another driver backed into him, knocking him down. He injured his other knee and sought workers’ comp for that injury.
The Workers’ Compensation Commission found the second knee injury was “causally related” to the first injury, so it should be covered by workers’ comp.
WMATA appealed and a circuit court upheld the ruling. The employer appealed again, this time to a special appeals court.
WMATA pointed to a previous decision regarding a case in which an employee who was injured at work fell on a patch of ice while on the way to a physical therapist’s office. At the time of the fall, the person was no longer employed by the company.
In that case, a court ruled benefits should not be extended for “every subsequent accident that may occur while going to and coming from a doctor or other health care provider.” The court said “the claimant must establish a direct causal connection between the original accidental injury and the subsequent injury or condition.”
Based on the previous ruling, the special appeals court ruled there wasn’t a sufficient link between Williams’ two injuries to award workers’ comp benefits for the second one. It said “Williams’ second injury was not caused by his first injury … Williams does not contend that the [first] injury reduced his mobility and thereby prevented him from avoiding the car.” Nor was the second injury a result of medical malpractice during treatment of the first one.
So the court said Williams could not collect workers’ comp benefits because the second injury was not sufficiently related to the first one.
Case not closed yet
But it’s possible Williams may yet get workers’ comp for the second injury.
Here’s why: The special appeals court noted that the Workers’ Comp Commission did not answer the question of whether the second injury, standing alone, was compensable.
Unlike the case that it based its decision on, Williams was still employed by WMATA at the time of the second injury.
Williams was attending the work hardening sessions on the order of his employer. It was scheduled through the nurse case manager who was hired and paid for by WMATA.
The court said it was clear that WMATA required Williams to be in the parking lot at the PT facility at the time he was struck by the vehicle. He needed to be there to get back to his job, which he was successfully able to do.
So the special appeals court sent the case back to the Comp Commission for it to address the issue of whether the second injury, standing alone, could be said to have occurred in the course of employment.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
(WMATA v. Williams, Court of Special Appeals of MD, No. 2316, 4/26/12)