Knee Replacements and Workers’ Compensation

Knee injuries are some of the most common injuries in the workplace that require workers to go on Workers’ Compensation. According to the U.S Department of Labor Statistics in 2015, there were nearly 100,000 claims filed by workers because of knee injuries.  Not only are knee injuries painful, but then can be costly and require expensive surgery.

The Problem with Knee Injuries

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Knee injuries are some of the most common injuries doctors see in practice. The knee is the largest joint in the body and is composed of several ligaments, tendons, and bones. Additionally, the knee has several unique structures such as the meniscus and is has areas of cartilage that can be worn down by years of wear and tear. Because the knee is a complex piece of our anatomical structure common injuries include:

  • Fractures – Most fractures in the knee are caused by trauma from a slip and fall. The most commonly fractured bone in the knee is the patella.
  • Dislocations – dislocations are common in the knee because as the largest joint in the body it can be subjected to massive amounts of force. Dislocations occur when the bones of the knee shift out of place either partially or completely.
  • ACL injuries – The ACL or anterior cruciate ligament runs along the inside of the knee and can be injured when a person rapidly changes direction, or jumps, or lands.
  • Meniscal tears – The meniscus is composed of two wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage that act as shock absorbers between the femur and the tibia. These injuries are common when a worker twists, cuts, or pivots on their knee.

The problem with these injuries is not only are they painful, but they often require surgical intervention in order to restore the knee to fully functioning. Unfortunately for some people, the damage to their knee is so severe that they need a knee replacement. In this process, the surgeon will remove damaged cartilage and bone from the surface of the knee and replace the damaged structures with either metal or plastic pieces. Not only is this surgery painful, but it can require extensively long healing times, and does not always guarantee that a person will be able to return to work or their previous functionality after completion.

Are Knee Replacements Covered Under Workers’ Compensation Laws?

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Knee replacements are expensive surgical operations that not only cost a lot but also necessitate that the worker will not be able to work for an extended period of time. This is why insurance carriers often appear very aggressive when a worker claims they have been injured at work, and will often try to refute their responsibility to pay for a knee replacement.

Under Arkansas Workers’ Compensation system and laws if a worker is injured during the course of their employment, including injuries that necessitate a knee replacement. The employer takes the employee as it finds her, and employment circumstances that aggravate pre-existing conditions are compensable. This means that not only will an employer be required to pay for a knee replacement surgery following an accident and injury while on the job, but they may also be required to do so even if a worker has aggravated a pre-existing condition during the course of their employment. However, it should be noted that Arkansas law requires that there be an independent intervening cause for the injury in most claims.

In Maverick Transp. v. Buzzard, 69 Ark. App. 128, 10 S.W.3d 467 (2000), the Arkansas Court of Appeals discussed the difference between an aggravation and a recurrence as it relates to Workers’ Compensation law. The Court stated:

An aggravation is a new injury resulting from an independent incident. Farmland Ins. Co. v. DuBois, 54 Ark. App. 141, 923 S.W.2d 883 (1996). A recurrence is not a new injury but merely another period of incapacitation resulting from a previous injury. Atkins Nursing Home v. Gray, 54 Ark. App. 125, 923 S.W.2d 897 (1996). A recurrence exists when the second complication is a natural and probable consequence of a prior injury. Weldon v. Pierce Bros. Constr., 54 Ark. App. 344, 925 S.W.2d 179 (1996). Only where it is found that a second episode has resulted from an independent intervening cause is liability imposed upon the second carrier.

Id. at 130, 10 S.W.3d at 468. An aggravation is a new injury with an independent cause and, therefore, must meet the requirements for a compensable injury. Crudup v. Regal Ware, Inc., 341 Ark. 804, 20 s.W.3d 900 (2000); Ford v. Chemipulp Process, Inc., 63 Ark. App. 260, 977 S.W.2d 5 (1998).

The test to determine whether a subsequent episode is a recurrence or an aggravation is whether the subsequent episode was a natural and probable result of the first injury or if it was precipitated by an independent intervening cause. Bearden Lumber Co. v. Bond, 7 Ark. App. 65, 644 S.W.2d 321 (1983). If there is a causal connection between the primary and the subsequent disability, there is no independent intervening cause unless the subsequent disability is triggered by activity on the part of the claimant which is unreasonable under the circumstances. Guidry v. J R Eads Const. Co., 11 Ark. App. 219, 669 S.W.2d 483 (1984),Georgia-Pacific Corp. v. Carter, 62 Ark. App. 162, 969 S.W.2d 677 (1998), Davis v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. 341 Ark. 751, 20 S.W.3d 326 (2000).

As you can imagine it can be very difficult to determine whether or not an injury is causally related. Often these determinations are made my medical experts and during hearings before administrative law judges. However, during these hearings, if you do not have an experienced attorney on your side you may find that the process seems unfair towards you, and even though you are entitled to all medical costs related to a workplace injury, you may find your employer is reluctant to pay.

Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Attorney Ken Kieklak Can Fight for You

Working with an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney in Arkansas can increase your likelihood of a successful benefit claim or appeal. If you have additional questions regarding Workers’ Compensation in Fayetteville or would like to see if our services are a match for you, contact Fayetteville AR workers’ comp lawyer Ken Kieklak, Attorney at Law today by calling (479) 316-0438 or contact us online.