Is a concrete truck driver able to collect workers’ compensation benefits for a repetitive stress injury to his back stemming from years spent bouncing around in the truck’s cab? Or was his pain unrelated to his job?
The Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision granting the driver benefits based on substantial medical evidence that connected his back problems to his job duties.
He spent 7 hours per day in driver’s seat with worn out cushion
Jason Collins began working for Century Ready Mix as a concrete truck driver in May 2005. He worked full-time 40 to 60 hours per week and between eight and 15 hours per day.
Seven hours out of every eight-hour shift was spent sitting in the concrete truck. The truck would be running the entire time since power was required from the engine to run the hydraulic pumps. Also, the truck was required to move frequently while on the jobsite.
The truck Collins drove was five to 10 years old with a worn out cushion. Vibrations from the diesel engine were rough, unlike a regular car. He could feel the engine vibrating while sitting in the truck and experienced jarring in his seat since he had to drive on undeveloped roads most of the time.
His pain level was regularly a 6 out of 10
On April 2, 2018, Collins began to experience severe back pain. He’d had back pain before, but the pain would get better with rest. This time, the pain wouldn’t stop. Instead, it reached a constant level of six on a pain scale of zero to 10. The pain shot down from his back to his right leg and would get worse than a level six throughout the day as he worked.
Collins required three separate lumbar epidural steroid injections and eventually had to undergo back surgery. The pain improved for a short time but worsened within a month or two after each procedure.
Because of the pain, Collins:
- couldn’t use his back the same as before
- was limited on how long he could sit, stand, walk and sleep
- was diagnosed with chronic back pain that caused increased urinary frequency, fecal incontinence, sexual dysfunction, anxiety and depression
- had to stop playing darts, hunting and fishing
- could no longer mow his lawn, garden, cook, wash dishes or clean his home
- could only drive for 20 minutes at a time before having to stop and get out to stand and stretch.
As soon as Collins learned his back problems may have been caused by his job, he notified Century. That was in late August 2019. Century terminated him in September 2019 because he was no longer able to perform his work duties.
Doctor says ‘Several years of whole-body jarring’ led to pain
Collins filed a workers’ compensation claim on Sept. 9, 2019, arguing that his back pain was the result of “cumulative trauma” from his years driving a concrete truck. Century contested the claim, arguing that Collins’ injury wasn’t work-related.
In court before an administrative law judge, Collins presented medical evidence from his diagnostic doctor that made a causal connection between his back problems and “work-related activity of several years of whole-body vibration and jarring.” The doctor said he had placed severe restrictions on Collins’ activities because of his back issues. Collins’ date of maximum medical improvement was Oct. 19, 2019, according to the doctor.
A vocational expert also testified on behalf of Collins. The expert said that Collins, who graduated high school but had no vocational training outside of truck driving, had no transferrable job skills. That meant he couldn’t compete in the open labor market as no employer would hire him in his current physical state. The expert said that the disabilities Collins suffered were enough to render him permanently and totally disabled.
Judge grants benefits, both parties argue over legalities
The judge found there was substantial medical evidence connecting Collins’ injury to his work as a concrete truck driver and granted him workers’ compensation benefits.
There were multiple technical issues related to attorney’s fees and pay rates that both sides couldn’t agree on leading both parties to file appeals with the Missouri Workers’ Compensation Commission. In its appeal, Century continued to argue that Collins’ back problems weren’t related to his work.
Based on Collins’ testimony and his doctor’s expert opinion, the commission found that Collins “sustained a compensable occupational disease as a result of his exposure to repetitive trauma within the course and scope of his employment.”
Again, both parties filed appeals over the same legalities as before, this time with the Missouri Court of Appeals, and again Century argued that Collins’ back problems weren’t work-related.
Prior decisions supported by substantial, competent evidence
In addressing the compensability issue, the court stated that an occupational disease is “an identifiable disease arising with or without human fault out of and in the course of the employment.” Ordinary diseases that the general public is exposed to aren’t compensable except under limited circumstances.
For an employee to prove they’ve suffered an occupational disease, they must “provide substantial and competent evidence that they have contracted an occupationally induced disease rather than an ordinary disease of life.”
The court, in affirming benefits for Collins, found that the judge and commission were correct in determining that Collins suffered an occupational disease in the course and scope of his employment. That was because there was “competent and substantial evidence” that led to their decisions.