Can a worker who was injured when he was struck by a tire collect workers’ compensation benefits for a permanent impairment even if he’s capable of working without any restrictions?
The Superior Court of Delaware upheld a ruling of the state’s Industrial Accident Board, finding that the worker failed to establish that he suffered a permanent impairment from his injuries.
2 medical experts give contrary opinions
Waylon Mabrey worked as an equipment operator for the Delaware Authority for Regional Transit (DART). He suffered a compensable injury on Feb. 27, 2019 when a tire struck him and injured his head and cervical spine.
As part of his workers’ compensation claim, Mabrey requested a permanent impairment award for his cervical spine injury.
However, two medical experts had contrary opinions regarding Mabrey’s impairment:
- Mabrey’s expert found a 20% impairment of the cervical spine, and
- the state’s expert found no permanent impairment.
Released to full duty, but still won’t lift more than 30 pounds
Following the incident, Mabrey received medical treatment for his injuries through June 1, 2022. At some point between Nov. 4, 2019 and April 5, 2021, Mabrey was released to full-duty work with no restrictions.
Despite the release to full duty, Mabrey continued to avoid lifting objects weighing more than 30 pounds both at work and at home.
Mabrey also had a previous workers’ compensation claim for a 2014 incident to “his upper right extremity.” He wasn’t diagnosed with a cervical spine injury from that incident, but his medical records from that period mentioned neck pain and radiculopathy.
The state’s medical expert pointed out that Mabrey continued to complain of neck pain from the 2014 incident prior to the more recent injury. Further, Mabrey’s own expert admitted that he “had remained highly active and was doing quite well” thanks to the medical treatment he was receiving.
The Delaware Industrial Accident Board found the state’s medical expert more convincing and ruled that Mabrey failed to meet the burden of proof establishing that he suffered a permanent impairment related to the 2019 workplace incident.
Court: Substantial evidence supports denial of benefits
On appeal, Mabrey argued that the board erred by failing to conclude that the 2019 incident aggravated his pre-existing injuries from the 2014 incident. To that end, Mabrey emphasized that he was never diagnosed with neck-related spinal problems before the 2019 incident, and the need for treatment for neck pain increased after he was struck by the tire.
The court found that there was substantial evidence to support the board’s ruling, however. The medical expert who found no permanent impairment, Mabrey’s history of prior neck discomfort and his lack of needing further treatment by the time of the hearing pointed to a proper ruling by the board, according to the appeals court.