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Appeals court rules only 50% of knee disability work-related

workers comp

Only half of a workers compensation claims adjustor’s total permanent disability was caused by a fall at work, with the remaining half due to degenerative conditions, an appeals court in California ruled Wednesday in its annulment of a 100% disability award. 

The California Workers’ Compensation Board had previously ruled that the permanent disability suffered by Barbara Justice, who worked for Santa Clara County from 1991 to 2016, warranted a 100% disability award, according to documents in County of Santa Clara v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board and Barbara Justice, filed in the Court of Appeals of California, Sixth District, in San Jose, California. Ms. Justice suffered her compensable injury in a fall at work in 2011.

On appeal, the county argued that changes to state law in 2004 allowed for apportionment of permanent disability based on actual causes of disability, as proven by medical evidence. In Ms. Justice’s case, the county argued that documented degenerative conditions in her knee caused part of her permanent disability, according to documents and medical testimony.  

The appeals court agreed, writing that apportionment statutes “demand that the disability be sorted among direct and indirect causal factors. In this case, there was unrebutted substantial medical evidence that Justice's permanent disability was caused, in part, by an extensive preexisting knee pathology. Apportionment was therefore required.”  

The case has been remanded back to the board for a 50-50 division of the permanent disability between nonindustrial and industrial causes.