No question the employee in this case suffered a workplace back injury. But was the company on the hook for workers’ comp for all of the employee’s subsequent back problems?
Janet Richardson worked as a sales clerk at a Speedway in West Virginia. On Aug. 29, 2011, she was assaulted while at work. The attacker shoved her repeatedly against a metal sink which caused a significant bruise on her back.
X-rays showed multilevel disc narrowing but no acute compression.
A family nurse practitioner (FNP) found Richardson had full range of motion and released her to return to work three days later without restrictions.
However, an MRI revealed multilevel degenerative disc disease and herniations.
The FNP put Richardson on light duty work: She couldn’t lift more than 10 pounds and couldn’t stand more than two hours during an eight-hour workday.
Richardson continued working for Speedway for a few months, but her employment ended when Speedway couldn’t accommodate her work restrictions.
A claims administrator determined Richardson was only eligible for medical treatment and expenses for the back bruise she suffered during the attack.
An independent doctor examined Richardson and found she had reached her maximum degree of medical improvement and that she required no further treatment for the work injury.
The doctor also said her degenerative disc disease was age-related and she attributed her ongoing symptoms to this condition, not the work injury.
Richardson returned to the FNP for more treatment. The FNP recommended Richardson receive physical and vocational rehab and a functional capacity evaluation. The claims administrator denied authorization.
The West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Office of Judges concluded Richardson was entitled to reconsideration of her eligibility for rehab services including a functional capacity evaluation.
But a state appeals court didn’t buy it. The court wrote:
“The evidence in the record demonstrates that Ms. Richardson’s need for vocational services including a functional capacity evaluation is related to non-compensable degenerative conditions and not her compensable lumbar contusion.”
Richardson was denied coverage for the test and rehab.
Sometimes a workplace injury can lead to discovery of another medical condition that might seem related to the work injury but isn’t. This case shows the importance of independent medical evaluations to find what’s compensable and what isn’t.
What do you think about this case? Let us know in the comments.
(Janet L. Richardson v. Speedway LLC, State of West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, No. 14-0106, 3/27/15)