Briggs v. H&K Stevens
August 12, 2014
Pre-Existing Foot Causation §201(4)
Summary from the Troubh Heisler Attorneys
The employee had a pre-existing foot condition that became increasingly symptomatic while working at a Subway franchise. Her job required her to be on her feet 90% of her working time. Eventually her foot required surgery, the employer was unable to accommodate her restrictions, and she lost her job. She filed a petition claiming that prolonged standing at work aggravated her pre-existing condition and significantly contributed to her disability.
The hearing officer found that, although the work activities contributed to the employee's chronic foot pain, the employment was not a legal cause of her injury because the disability did not occur as a result of an employment-related risk that was greater than the level of risk that she faced in everyday life. The Appellate Division disagreed, ruling as a matter of law that standing or walking on hard surfaces for 90% of an 8 to 12-hour shift as part of a full-time job constitutes a risk of injury greater than that experienced in ordinary life, and that the injury resulted from that increased risk.
The hearing officer also found that the employee failed to prove that the employment contributed to the disability in a significant manner as required by section 201(4) because there was no medical evidence addressing that issue or analyzing the relative contributions of the employment and the everyday life activities. The Appellate Division reversed that determination, ruling that because the pre-existing condition combined with the work-related aggravation to render the employee disabled, the requirement of section 201(4) was satisfied. Thus, the Appellate Division has ruled that if a pre-existing condition combines with a work-related aggravation, and the work-related aggravation makes any contribution to the disability, then it contributes to the disability "in a significant manner" as a matter of law.
Because the hearing officer did not address the employer's notice defense in the decree, the case was remanded to the hearing officer for further proceedings on that issue. Depending on the outcome on remand, the Law Court may be called upon to decide whether the phrase "in a significant manner" has any meaning in section 201(4), and to address the finality of hearing officers' findings of fact.