Oregon Court of Appeals Clarifies Occupational Disease Standard

Kevin AndersonIn a recent decision, the Court of Appeals clarified a worker’s burden of proof in an occupational disease claim. Johnston v. Gordon Trucking – Heartland Express, 305 Or App 531 (2020).

The claim for lumbar arthritis was denied in part based on medical evidence confirming claimant’s aging process/genetics was an active contributor to the development of the denied conditions and it was impossible to say whether claimant’s work accelerated those conditions.

Claimant argued while he had the initial burden of showing his work activities were the major cause of the occupational disease, the burden should shift to the employer to then prove non-work related factors were in fact the major cause of the condition. The court rejected this argument as there is no basis for a burden shifting process in the occupational disease standard. Rather, it remains the claimant’s burden to show employment conditions are the major cause of the condition, even if it is more complicated when there are other non-work related factors involved.

This case is an important reminder as a legal matter, employers/insurers are not required to establish the major cause of a claimed condition. As a practical matter, our medical evidence will be more persuasive if we can identify the major cause of the claimed condition and effectively rule out the work activities as a contributing factor at the same time.

If you have any questions regarding this case or how it may impact your claims, please feel free to contact me at kanderson@sbhlegal.com or 503-595-2130.