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Octogenarian’s dual knee injuries are compensable

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Bad knees

An octogenarian’s right knee injury — purportedly caused by strain put on the leg because of a left knee injury at work — is compensable, held an appellate court Friday.

In Enterprise Leasing Co. v. Drake, a three-judge panel of the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama in Montgomery unanimously affirmed a trial court ruling that found both of the former worker’s knee injuries were compensable. 

Benson Drake worked as a driver for Enterprise Leasing Company-South Central LLC in Decatur, Alabama. On Sept. 1, 2016, he filed a claim for workers compensation benefits stemming from an August 2015 injury he suffered after he slid out of a passenger van, hitting the sidewalk hard with his heel and jarring his left knee. He was treated at the emergency room and received a cast, pain medication and physical therapy. However, he claimed that the left knee injury caused strain to his right knee, and that his right knee issues are also compensable because he had “overworked” the right knee since he could not fully walk on his left knee. He was 81 years old at the time of the injury. 

Enterprise Leasing denied the claim, but a Jefferson County trial court in Birmingham, Alabama, entered judgment in favor of Mr. Drake, assigning him a 50% permanent partial impairment rating to both of his legs. The employer appealed, arguing that the Mr. Drake failed to “present clear and convincing evidence that his right-knee injury is compensable.”

The appellate court held that Mr. Drake’s right knee injury was the result of overuse of that knee following his left knee injury at work. The court noted that the trial court considered the testimony of a physician in its decision who stated that it was “not uncommon to have somebody with a painful joint on one side subsequently several months later, start complaining about pain on the other side.”

Another physician testified that it was “impossible” for anyone to say whether his right knee issues were caused by the left knee injury or triggered by arthritis, noting that “81-year-old people generally don't have good joints.” However, the appellate court held that even though the doctor was unable to state definitively whether the injury to the Mr. Drake’s left knee had caused the injury to his right knee, the trial court had sufficient evidence to determine that the man’s right knee injury was compensable as a direct and natural consequence of his left knee injury, and therefore affirmed the ruling.

 

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