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On February 27, 2015, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released an opinion re-affirming the principle that an employer is only liable under the Worker’s Compensation Act for treatment of the temporary injury when a work related injury aggravates a preexisting condition. Ex parte Fairhope Health & Rehab, LLC, 2015 WL 836706, at *7 (Ala. Civ. App. Feb. 27, 2015). In this case, the employer appealed the trial court’s decision that the employer was required to pay for the plaintiff’s knee replacement surgery, arguing that the medical evidence did not support the decision that plaintiff’s work-related knee injury necessitated the knee replacement surgery. Id. at *1.
The Court of Appeals initially noted that an appeal was not the proper method for seeking review of the trial court’s order and instead treated employer’s appeal as a petition for writ of mandamus. Id. at *3. The Court noted “that if a work-related accident temporarily aggravates a preexisting condition, not contributing at all to the preexisting condition after a period, the employer is liable for compensation under the Act only for the temporary disabling effects caused by the accident.” Id. at *5 (citing Alamo v. PCH Hotels & Resorts, Inc., 987 So.2d 598 (Ala.Civ.App.2007) (emphasis original).
Turning to the merits of the case, the Court found that plaintiff had preexisting arthritis and other degenerative changes in her right knee before she injured her knee while getting into a van at work. The Court then considered that plaintiff’s physician, Dr. Roca, testified unequivocally that the meniscus surgery he performed returned the plaintiff to the same condition she was in before the work-related injury and that the knee replacement surgery would not be related in any way to the work-related injury. Because the medical evidence showed that plaintiff’s arthritis was a preexisting condition that necessitated the knee replacement surgery, the Court held that the employer was not responsible for the knee replacement surgery because the plaintiff failed to prove medical causation. Id. at 7. Thus, the trial court’s ruling that the employer was responsible for the knee replacement surgery was reversed.
This decision is useful to employers and carriers seeking to avoid costs of unrelated medical treatment and demonstrates the importance of obtaining clear medical testimony regarding preexisting conditions and causation.