A recent workers’ compensation case made it to a Missouri Court of Appeals after the employer claimed that the worker’s injury was not compensable because the accident did not immediately produce crippling symptoms.
The case is a sign of how tilted the field of workers’ compensation law has become in Missouri.
Worker Feels Symptoms Day After Accident
The case is Harper v. Springfield Rehab & Health Center.
In it, a 69-year-old nurse – who had enough medical issues to legally use disabled parking spaces – had to quickly move a 100-pound medicine cart away from the wall so rehab patients could use the handrail to get by. She had never had to push the cart before, and it was big enough that had to use her whole body to move it. While straining to move it, she felt something pull in her back. Thinking that it was minor, she kept working and finished her shift, though she soon had difficulty walking. The next morning, her back had gotten even worse. It continued to worsen at work the next day and got to the point that she had to quit her job – the pain medication made her groggy and she was worried that she would give the wrong medication to her patients.
She eventually needed back surgery that put her in a wheelchair for a year.
When she filed for workers’ compensation, the administrative law judge found her to be permanently and totally disabled. On appeal, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (LIRC) agreed and affirmed her award.
The employer appealed, claiming that she did not deserve compensation because her symptoms had not been immediate.
Appeals Court Says the Obvious
It is common knowledge that some injuries feel worse after some time has passed. Nearly everyone has done physically-demanding chores, like yard work or moving furniture, and felt fine for the rest of the day only to wake up sore the next morning.
Unfortunately, Missouri’s workers’ compensation laws have been amended and so strictly construed against workers that employers are willing to advance increasingly nonsensical arguments to try to deny compensation.
That is exactly what happened in this case, but the Missouri Court of Appeals had none of it.
Noting that amendments to Missouri’s workers’ compensation laws had abrogated earlier cases that interpreted important definitions in the statutes, the appeals court revisited what Missouri Statute 287.020(2) means when it says that a compensable workplace accident is one “producing at the time objective symptoms of an injury.”
According to the employer, this meant that the pain and debilitation from the injury must be instantaneous – at the precise time of the accident. The Court of Appeals, correctly, disagreed, ruling that both the pull that the nurse felt in her back while moving the cart and the difficulty walking later on during her shift were “at the time” of the accident.
Missouri Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph
In our next blog about workers’ compensation, we will revisit this case as an example of how subjective injuries can be, and how the LIRC is comfortable ignoring that fact.
If you have been hurt at work in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, or the rest of western Missouri, reach out to the personal injury attorneys at the Smith Law Office for legal representation. Contact us online or call us at (816) 875-9373.