Board erred in assessment of plumber’s disability: Court

The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled that the Industrial Commission erred in assessing an injured plumber’s disability when he achieved maximum medical improvement instead of his hearing, because substantial weight gain worsened his condition.

Daniel Sharp injured his back while working as a plumber for Thomas Brothers Plumbing in 2015. Mr Sharp, at 5ft 6 and 250lbs, was considered obese at the time of his accident, according to Sharp c. Thomas Brothers Plumbingfiled in Boise on May 18.

The day after his accident, Sharp was diagnosed with a large vertebral disc herniation and was referred to a neurosurgeon, who found that the herniation was causing early symptoms of cauda equina syndrome, a condition that can lead to permanent paralysis. .

This doctor recommended immediate surgery. After the operation, Mr Sharp complained of persistent pain in his legs and lower back. The doctor had told Mr Sharp he needed to lose weight to avoid complications, but he had instead gained weight in the months that followed.

Mr Sharp began physical therapy shortly after his operation and was examined and treated by several providers over the following months. All of the providers expressed concern about Mr. Sharp’s obesity and recommended that he lose weight. In the years that followed, his weight rose to 262 pounds, as did his disability and the severe work restrictions that resulted. Two vocational rehabilitation experts agreed that Mr Sharp was totally disabled under 2019 work restrictions, when he weighed the most.

The Industrial Commission found that Thomas Brothers was liable for certain unpaid medical bills, but not for the services of a dietitian to help Mr Sharp lose weight. He also concluded that Mr. Sharp’s weight gain after the accident was a change in condition not caused by his accident at work, which diminished his functional ability and led to more work restrictions.

The Idaho Supreme Court found the board erred in failing to assess Mr. Sharp’s disability at the time of the hearing and applied an incorrect standard for determining when an employer is relieved of liability for the aggravation of a compensable injury or a related secondary injury.

The court said the employer’s liability extends to incidental consequences of compensable injuries, and that there was “no doubt that the full extent of Sharp’s injury and resulting disability is causally linked to his accident at work”.

WorkCompCentral is a sister publication of Business Insurance. More stories here.

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