Monday, September 18, 2017

Workers’ Compensation: Subsequent, Intervening Injuries Do Not Necessarily Bar a Claim for Worsening Condition

Electrical GeneralCorp. et al. v. Michael L. Labonte, No. 69, September Term 2016 (decided July 27, 2016)

The Court of Appeals has put to rest a dispute on the ramifications of a subsequent,, unrelated event in a workers’ compensation case.  In Electrical General Corp. et al. v. Michael L. Labonte, the Court of Appeals issued an opinion finding a subsequent, intervening, and unrelated event does not necessarily preclude the employer’s liability for workers’ compensation benefits. 

The facts arose out of a work-related injury in 2004 in which Mr. Labonte injured his back in a work-related injury.  On December 31, 2006, he was involved in an altercation with a police officer after a traffic stop, which aggravated his back injury.  He filed issues for treatment in early 2007 after further medical treatment was denied by the carrier.  The Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission (“Commission”) denied the additional treatment in March of 2007.  There was no appeal.

In October of 2007, Mr. Labonte filed for permanency and the commission found he had a disability of 30% to his back, of which 10% was due to pre-existing and subsequent events.  Again, there was no appeal.

In 2012, the claimant filed a Petition to Reopen for a worsening of condition.  The Commission denied his claim because the prior award in March of 2007 found the subsequent injury broke the causal nexus between his need for treatment and the original injury.  The claimant appealed and won in Circuit Court and the Court of Special Appeals.  The Court of Appeals heard the case for a final decision on the matter. 

The Court of Appeals found the existence of a prior finding of a subsequent intervening event does not preclude the Commission from awarding additional permanent partial disability benefits for a worsening of an employee’s condition.  The issue of whether there is a worsening of condition attributable solely to the work injury is a factual matter for the Commission to determine in each individual case.