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An appeals court in Missouri on Tuesday ruled that two members of the state’s three-member labor commission failed to present medical evidence in denying a disabled and obese worker permanent total disability, ruling that his pre-existing condition could have caused his disability.
Robert March fabricated metal electrical boxes for Milbank Manufacturing Co. when after 19 years he began having problems with his upper extremities, complaining of bilateral hand problems and shooting pains in his arms, shoulders and neck area, according to documents in March v. Treasurer of State of Missouri-custodian of Second Injury Fund, filed in the Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Following treatment, covered by Milbank’s workers compensation policy, and an award for permanent partial disability claim, three medical providers and several vocational experts agreed that there was “no dispute” that Mr. March, who was classified as “morbid obese” suffering from several other conditions and comorbidities including lower extremity injuries, is “permanently and totally disabled.”
At issue is whether his disability falls under the responsibility of the state’s Second Injury Fund, which can apply to disabled workers whose injuries are work-related but do not fall under comp. As the appeal court explained, “the most significant of Employee's preexisting medical conditions… is his bilateral lower extremity condition in which he initially began exhibiting symptoms of radiating pain down both legs and into his swollen ankles in 2005 secondary to morbid obesity and venous varicosities in association with obesity.”
Given the work responsibilities performed for his employer over the years, Mr. March’s “bilateral lower extremity condition continued to deteriorate prior to Employee’s primary injury, although Employee worked continuously for Employer until his upper extremity injuries in 2015.”
In denying permanent disability under the Second Injury Fund, ruling his injury was related to preexisting conditions and unrelated to work, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission ruled that although medical testimony found the lower-extremity injury related to his work that “it was equally likely that employee’s preexisting injuries (without the addition of the primary injury) resulted in employee's permanent and total disability.”
The appeals court, in reversing and remanding the case, ruled this conclusion as to causation as “unsupported by any expert medical testimony and is, instead, simply the lay conclusion of two of three members of the Commission; accordingly, it is nothing more than conjecture and speculation and cannot, as a matter of law, constitute substantial evidence to support the Commission’s” ruling.
The Vermont legislature’s decision to change old language for permanent disabilities from “incurable imbecility or insanity” to “traumatic brain injury” was retroactive and applies to a former fire district worker who suffered significant skull fractures in a workplace fall, the state Supreme Court ruled.