Pre-Existing Conditions and Your Injury

This post will provide some examples of pre-existing conditions that have resulted in denial of workers compensation benefits as well as some examples of cases where benefits were still payable to the injured worker. In a 1986 case called Allen vs. Industrial Commission, the Utah Supreme Court decided that a person with a pre-existing condition can receive workers compensation only if the industrial accident involved an “unusual and extraordinary exertion” over and above the usual wear and tear and exertions of everyday, non-employment life. The Court explained that taking full garbage containers to the street, or lifting a child to chest height, or changing a flat tire–these are all common tasks people perform in their non-employment life, and thus these types of exertions are not “unusual” or “extraordinary.”

Since 1986, the Labor Commission and courts have decided many cases involving pre-existing conditions to decide if the worker got hurt during an “unusual and extraordinary exertion.” Here are some scenarios that passed the test and were found to be “unusual and extraordinary exertions”:
–Climbing a ladder while carrying a 20-30 lb roll of tar paper, then having one foot slip and both feet landing on the rung below, resulting in back pain. Oyler, 11-0033.
–Repetitive exposure to significant levels of ammonia fumes. Raftery, 03-0865.
–Attempting to jostle into place a roll of paper that weighed approximately 2,400 lbs.
–Repetitive exertions such as moving many boxes or objects weighing less than 50 lbs.

It seems, however, that there are more cases where the Labor Commission finds that the exertion was not unusual or extraordinary:
–Stumbling but not falling while walking on pavers. Rizzo, LC 09-0452.
–Catching oneself while twisting with some weight on an unsteady platform, such as a boat, airplane, bus, or train. Murray 2013 UT 38.
–Slipping, falling, hitting knee on a hard object like a metal track. Monroy, 09-0861.
–Twisting knee while stepping down and later tripping on floor mat. Fact that mat was greasy is irrelevant to worker’s exertion. “Tripping over such surfaces frequently occur in nonemployment life.” Stennett, 99-1024.
–A one-time lunge and twist, even though “forceful.” Bigler, 95-0838.
–Unexpected impact from behind, sufficient to cause startled response & lurch forward. Schreiber, 97-0608.
–Missing a step at the bottom of a flight of stairs, or falling with a jolt when the slab of coal on which you are standing breaks and drops 12 inches. Wardle, 03-1191.
–Squatting off and on for about an hour before twisting-knee injury. Jimison, 13-0037.
–Slipping on wet floor while carrying 38-lb box, resulting in a back injury. This “exertion is similar to slipping while carrying luggage, a full garbage bag or a small child.” Withers, 12-0071.
–Leaning forward briefly to inspect the concrete and gutter line with one’s torso twisted and his right foot 18 inches above and perpendicular to his left foot when the injury occurred. Sneddon, 13-0886.
–Climbing a ladder and striking one’s head [on unseen box overhead]—to be similar to the common exertion of stepping onto a stool and striking one’s head on an overhead object. Quintana, 14-0582.
–Standing up suddenly and striking one’s head on an overhead electrical box. Woll, 14-0647.
— Crouching down and lifting 35-lb bag from shelf 4” off floor and twisting while lifting. Jensen, 07-0005.
— Lifting and twisting with a 47-lb box. Dahl, 08-1282.
— Stepping backward off a cement riser about 8-12 inches high after retrieving a 20-lb box, miscalculating the distance and coming down hard on one leg, resulting in back pain. Stone, 04-0602.
— Kicking a freezer door while holding a tray of food, resulting in knee pain. Germer, 05-0318.

The analysis of whether an exertion is unusual and extraordinary is very fact-specific. Please do not simply assume that your pre-existing condition rules out a workers compensation claim because repetitive exertions of small weights can often pass the “Allen” test and result in compensable claims. Also, occasionally the evidence does not support the insurance company’s argument that the injured worker even had a contributing pre-existing condition. The law is that the pre-existing condition must actually contribute to the industrial injury. In short, it is often wise to consult with an experienced workers comp attorney to determine if you have a viable claim.

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