A man working as a millwright for a saw mill in Florida had been working at the same saw mill for the past twenty-four years. His job required him to do heavy manual labor consisting of bending from the waist to lift heavy objects and carrying the heavy objects. As time went on, the millwright gradually experienced pain in his right leg and hip. There was no specific incident that caused any spinal injury to the millwright during the course of his employment. The pain soon interfered with his duties at the saw mill and this prompted him to consult an orthopedic surgeon who immediately placed him on no-work status and referred him to a neurologist for testing.
The Long Island neurologist ran medical tests and scans on the man’s spine. The tests showed that the man had stenosis or a narrowing or choking of the spinal nerve roots in his neck and lower back. The compression of the spinal nerve roots cause the shooting pain in his hip and right leg. Spinal stenosis is a degenerative disease that occurs from repetitive bending and lifting of heavy objects.
The neurologist and the orthopedic surgeon both found that the man suffered from a degenerative disk disease and L3-4 herniated disk. They advised the millwright to take medication, sufficient rest and physical therapy to stop the pain and to arrest the further damage to his spine. The employer refused to pay the millwright’s claim for compensation and filed a complaint with the Compensation Commission.
The Judge of Compensation Claims found that stenosis is compensable because it is subsumed under “repetitive trauma theory.” He based his findings on the testimony of both the neurosurgeon and the orthopedic surgeon that the twenty-four years of consistent and repetitive lifting and bending while he worked as a millwright caused the disease. Repetitive trauma to the man’s spine caused his spinal injury.
The employer appealed the decision of the judge of compensation claims. In his appeal he claims that it was error to find that the stenosis was compensable. He posits that there was no injury or any specific event that can be pointed to as the proximate cause of the stenosis. He also claims that the stenosis was a preexisting condition which is not compensable.
The only question before the Court is whether or not the spinal injury of the millwright is compensable injury.
The Court held that the stenosis was not a preexisting condition or a preexisting disease. A preexisting condition is something personal to the employee, a medical condition that the employee brought to the workplace and exists independent of any contribution from any work-related injury and which may be aggravated by employment. If the stenosis of the millwright were a pre-existing condition then it is not compensable. In this case, the millwright did not have stenosis when he began working at the saw mill. The stenosis gradually developed over time because he over-used his back and his leg when he repeatedly bended over to lift heavy loads in the course of his employment.
The millwright and his Manhattan doctors all testified that he suffered prolonged exposure to the bending and lifting activities in the regular discharge of his duties at the saw mill. The doctors also testified that the prolonged repetition of bending and lifting has the cumulative effect of injuring or aggravating the spinal injury of the millwright. His work at the saw mill exposed him to a hazard for stenosis that is greater than the usual hazards that the general public is exposed to.
Under the repetitive trauma theory of compensability, there is no need to prove one specific instance of injury. Instead, the millwright need only show that each bump, strain and sprain which he routinely experienced in the long years at the same job is regarded as an accidental occurrence which led to his disability and need for treatment.
The Court found that the spinal injury suffered by the millwright is compensable.
Are you employed at a job requiring heavy manual labor or repetitive tasks such as lifting of heavy objects? Have you been diagnosed with a degenerative spinal injury due to repetitive trauma? You need the assistance of a Florida Spinal Injury attorney to file a claim for compensation to obtain damages for the injury and or disability you now suffer. You need the advice and representation of a Florida Spinal Injury Lawyer. At Stephen Bilkis and Associates, they have Florida Spinal Injury lawyers on their staff who are available for consultation. Call Stephen Bilkis and Associates. Better yet, come and visit their offices in the Florida area. Meet and confer with their Florida Spinal Injury lawyers and know your rights.