The Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (LIRC) has once again turned to the idiopathic injury rationale to deny workers’ compensation to a hurt worker. The specific facts of this case show just how unworkable this rationale can be.
Medical Complications from Truck Accident Leads to Leg Amputation
Back in February, 2014, a truck driver with diabetes left Missouri for Arkansas. In Arkansas, he began to feel sick and starting having diarrhea. He spent nearly two weeks at a truck stop, not wanting to drive without a bathroom in the truck. During this time, he stopped taking his medication for his diabetes.
Finally, he decided that his symptoms were good enough to get back on the road. Soon thereafter, though, he poorly rounded a curve on a steep roadway. The back wheels of his truck went over the edge of the highway and pulled his truck into a rollover on its passenger side. The driver, who was a large man, was hanging by his seatbelt for 15 to 20 minutes before he was able to unsecure it and fall to the passenger door, below.
Emergency room personnel did not find any serious trauma from the crash, aside from a fractured sacrum – a small bone in the pelvis. However, the next morning, the driver could barely walk on his leg. He was in and out of the hospital for several days before he wound up in the intensive care unit (ICU) for renal failure and lack of blood flow in his leg. An exploratory surgery found a lack of blood flow in his bowel, right where the seatbelt crossed his stomach. The driver’s condition deteriorated and blood clots formed, putting him in critical condition and leading to his leg being amputated.
Judge Finds Complications Were Not Due to the Crash
When the worker filed for workers’ compensation, the administrative law judge only awarded compensation for the fractured pelvic bone. She denied compensation for all of the other medical complications, claiming that they were idiopathic injuries – conditions that were caused by the victim’s existing health problems like, in this case, diabetes.
In support of this, the judge cited one of the medical experts in the case, who claimed that the driver had been sedentary for over a week before the crash, making him more prone to blood clots, which were the main cause of the subsequent medical problems.
However, this rationale ignores the fact that the victim was a truck driver who sits in the driver’s seat for entire work days.
The Big Problem with the Idiopathic Injury Concept
The case highlights the major issue with Missouri’s idiopathic injury concept: Workplace accidents often aggravate a victim’s existing medical problems. In Missouri, the idiopathic injury doctrine means that there will be no workers’ compensation for injuries that happened in the workplace, but which were related to the victim’s preexisting medical problems.
This does not just conflict with logic; it also contradicts longstanding rules of personal injury law.
Missouri, and nearly every other state, follows the “eggshell skull rule,” which holds negligent people liable for any injuries they cause, even if the victim only suffered the injury because of an eccentricity, weakness, or existing medical condition. If a driver negligently causes a fender bender, but that minimal contact breaks the victim’s back because his bones were brittle, the negligent driver is still liable.
But in Missouri’s workers’ compensation system, the idiopathic injury rule throws this basic concept away to help insulate businesses from liability and cut costs at the expense of employees.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph
If you or a loved one has been hurt at work in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, or the rest of western Missouri, call the workers' compensation lawyers at the Smith Law Office at (816) 875-9373 or contact them online.