In the case of Ocmulgee EMT et al. v. McDuffie, S17G0038, decided 10/16/2017, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed a Court of Appeals decision that would have made employers responsible for preexisting conditions, even when the condition is not the cause of disability.
The Court of Appeals held that when an aggravation of a preexisting condition ceases, the employer must show availability of suitable employment in the workforce before suspending a claimant’s benefits. However, the WC Act defines an “injury” to include aggravation of a preexisting condition but “only for so long as the aggravation of the preexisting continues to be the cause of the disability; the preexisting condition shall no longer meet this criteria when the aggravation ceases to be the cause of the disability …”
In this case, the claimant had received workers’ compensation benefits for several years for a compensable knee injury which he failed to disclose to the subsequent employer at the time of hiring. The claimant eventually aggravated the preexisting condition, but two physicians eventually concluded that the aggravation had ceased and that the employee had returned to baseline for the preexisting knee injury. The ALJ, WC Board, and Superior Court all held the employer was entitled to suspend benefits based upon the employee returning to baseline. However, the Court of Appeals remanded the case holding that the employer must also show the availability of suitable employment in the workplace in addition to establishing that the employee had returned to baseline. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals quoting the definition of the injury, which makes it clear that the employer is only responsible for an aggravation of a preexisting condition “for so long as the aggravation of the preexisting condition continues to be the cause of the disability.” The statute imposes no additional obligation for suspending benefits that suitable employment is available.
This is a big win for employers and insurers. Below is a copy of the Supreme Court decision.