Court of Appeals confirms no permanent disability awarded when work injury has no contribution to claimant’s impairment.

Anderson, Kevin_webThere have been many new issues in claim processing and particularly in rating permanent impairment after Brown/Schleiss and the WCD’s new closure rules. One particular argument we have seen from claimant’s counsel is that all of a worker’s physical limitations (restricted range of motion, loss of sensation, etc.) should be awarded as permanent disability at closure unless the employer can prove those restrictions are due to a preexisting condition.

In Magana-Marquez, SAIF accepted a lumbar strain. The attending physician confirmed claimant was medically stationary and had no permanent impairment from the injury. SAIF closed the claim without PPD. Claimant had reduced range of motion and sensation loss “due to spondylosis and body habitus.” Claimant argued under Schleiss, it was improper to reduce her award for conditions that did not qualify as preexisting conditions.

The Court of Appeals rejected this argument and confirmed the worker “must, at a minimum, demonstrate a causal relationship between the work compensable injury and the claimed impairment.” Magana-Marquez v SAIF, 276 Or App 32, 37 (2016). Unlike Schleiss, the worker here had no impairment due to the injury therefore there was no award to apportion.

If the attending physician confirms the work injury did not result in any permanent impairment, no permanent disability needs to be awarded at closure. However, if the attending physician concluded the work injury caused some permanent impairment, then all of the impairment should be awarded unless the insurer provides evidence that a legally preexisting condition also contributed to the impairment.

The Supreme Court is still reviewing the Brown decision, which could further impact the processing obligations.

In a footnote, the Court of Appeals noted the Workers’ Compensation Board had still been addressing permanent impairment due to accepted conditions in some claims and the proper focus is impairment due to the work injury. This statement is not binding law, but we should expect further decisions from the court addressing impairment.

If you have any questions regarding claim closure, apportionment, or these cases, please contact me at kanderson@sbhlegal.com or 503-595-2130.