Oregon Court of Appeals further defines susceptibilities or predispositions vs. preexisting conditions.

The Oregon Court of Appeals recently decided another case addressing what qualifies as a preexisting condition. Doris L. Lowells v. SAIF, 285 Or App 161 (2017). In Lowells, the court confirmed “chronic pain disorder” was not a compensable occupational disease because the major cause of the condition was claimant’s weight, deconditioning, and chronic tobacco use. Claimant argued on appeal that those personal factors should not be considered because they were “mere susceptibilities or predispositions.”

The court previously discussed preexisting conditions and confirmed if a condition merely renders a worker more susceptible to an injury, but does not actively contribute to damaging the body part, it cannot qualify as a preexisting condition. Corkum v. Bi-Mart Corp., 271 Or App 411, 419, 350 P3d 585 (2015)(see summary here). Here, the court extended its reasoning from injury claims to occupational disease claims.

Determining whether a condition is a preexisting condition or a mere susceptibility is a fact-specific issue. In other words, the court could not state that a claimant’s age, weight, and deconditioning are always a preexisting condition (or is never a preexisting condition). However, because the only two doctors to discuss causation stated claimant’s age, weight, and deconditioning were the major cause of her pain, and not just rendered her more susceptible to an injury, the occupational disease claim was not compensable.

We recommend asking the worker’s doctors to address not only when a preexisting condition was treated or diagnosed, but to include information regarding how that preexisting condition actively contributed to the disability/need for treatment and actively damaged the affected body part.

If you have any questions regarding this new case, how it affects any of your own cases, or you want to discuss any other issues regarding preexisting condition, please feel free to contact me at kanderson@sbhlegal.com or 503-595-2130.