Old or New Injury? Appeals Court hands it Back to WCB

In 2006 David Poulton worked for Martec Industries in Rochester, New York, as a laborer. Poulton had a history of low back claims, and had filed workers comp claims in 1998 and 2000. When he visited his treating physician in June 2006, he had the same old complaint: his back hurt, as it had virtually every day since his first injury in 1998. He told his doctor that he re-injured his back at work the prior day while lifting materials.

At the 1998 appointment Poulton told his doctor he wanted to quit working.

The doctor disabled him from work citing “old injuries and his continued decline.” The doctor characterized the situation as involving “episodic increases in pain” that had troubled Poulton for several years. The doctor, in fact, had been encouraging Poulton to stop working prior to this particular visit. Poulton testified that he “had this type of pain even before [he] started working at Martec” and, in fact, had felt the same type of intense pain in the “same area of the body, same area of the back” as recently as one month before the June 7, 2006 incident. Furthermore, claimant’s supervisor testified that claimant regularly complained of back pain and that, before June 2006, claimant stated that he might stop working and seek permanent disability benefits as a result of a back injury sustained at his former job.

An independent medical exam determined that Poulton suffered from degenerative disc disease and that his disability was caused primarily by preexisting problems.

So is this a new injury, as reported by Poulton, or simply the recurrence of an old one?

Ruling
The Workers’ Compensation Board ruled in Poulton’s favor, determining that the lifting incident at Martec aggravated the pre-existing condition. However, this ruling was reversed by the appellate division of the NY supreme court, which found no evidence of a new injury and remanded the case for further consideration.
The Appellate Court said “Considering the foregoing and viewing the record as a whole, we conclude that the Board’s finding that claimant sustained a new injury on June 7, 2006 is not supported by substantial evidence.” In other words – Poulton had a pre-existing degenerative condition.

Poulton is likely to go back into workers’ compensation court, and this time will bring in the insurance company from 1998.

The future for Poulton.
The interesting thing about this decision – finding that there was no “new” injury – is that Poulton may end up with an award against the prior insurer but his lost time wages and scheduled loss of use award will be based on what he earned in 1998, as opposed to 2010. This will likely result in a much lower potential recovery.

Case: Pulton v. Martec, 2010 NY Slip Op 06035, N.Y. App. Div. 3rd Dep’t, decided July 7, 2010.

Greg Lois is the managing partner of LOIS LLC, a 19-attorney law firm dedicated to defending employers and carriers in New York and New Jersey workers' compensation claims. Greg is the author of a popular series of "Handbooks" on workers' compensation, and is the co-author of the 2016 Lexis-Nexis New Jersey Workers' Compensation Practice Guide. Greg can be reached at 201-880-7213 or glois@lois-llc.com