Causation in Back and Spine Injuries in Louisiana Workers Compensation

City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana

Back and Spine Injuries in Louisiana Workers Compensation

Unfortunately, workers compensation insurance companies constantly try to deny claims for the back and spine on the basis of a pre-existing condition.  

In particular, regarding proof that the accident caused the back injury, the workers comp insurer will often contend that the back injury or disability was the result of some pre-existing disease (such as degenerative disc disease) rather than an accidental injury on the job.

Now, if the worker was healthy at the time of the accident, then proof of causation is usually relatively simple to prove.  

But even in those cases, the insurance company will try to claim that the worker was not healthy at the time of the accident.  

And often, if the injury is severe enough to disable the employee, then the condition or injury often becomes apparent immediately at the time that the accident occurs.  

Such an immediate appearance of full-blown symptoms, often established by the testimony of fellow employees, is almost always accepted as sufficient proof of both the accident and the fact that the accident caused the injury.

Pre-Existing Conditions in the Back and Spine in Louisiana Workers Compensation

But more often than not, instead of agreeing that the accident caused the injury, the insurance company will claim that the worker was suffering from an existing back condition at the time of the alleged accident and that such condition (rather than the accident) is the cause of the employee's disability.  

In cases like these, the problem of proving causation becomes extremely difficult. In fact, medical science finds that the symptoms of a traumatic accident are not all that different from degenerative or longstanding back disease and ailments.  

For these reasons, the outcome of these types of cases depends mainly upon a Judge deciding which of the conflicting doctors to believe.  

Fortunately, employees benefit from the presumption that: if an otherwise healthy employee suffers an accident and is thereafter disabled, it is presumed that the accident caused the injury, so long as the medical testimony establishes a reasonable possibility of such a connection.  

But, if the medical testimony does not support a reasonable possibility that the accident caused the injury, then this presumption does not arise.

In back and spine cases, medical expert opinion testimony (the sworn testimony or certified written records of the employee's physician) is absolutely critical in determining whether the accident caused the injury of the employee.

In fact, unlike hernia cases, the medical opinions are so important that other circumstantial evidence (such as testimony of family or friends) barely counts for much.  

Sometimes, testimony as to how soon after the accident the employee complained to coworkers or reported the injury to the employer can be helpful.  

But mostly, the workers compensation judge will just be much more focused on the medical records and sworn testimony of the physicians.

So for an employee, it is extremely important who the employee's treating physician is, and an experienced workers compensation attorney can often be extremely helpful in choosing the right doctor. 

The Louisiana Statute on Causation of Back and Spine Injuries in Louisiana Workers Compensation

The primary Louisiana statute on causation of back and spine injuries is La. R.S. 23:1021, which reads as follows: 

§1021. Terms defined

As used in this Chapter, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, the following terms shall be given the meaning ascribed to them in this Section:

(1) "Accident" means an unexpected or unforeseen actual, identifiable, precipitous event happening suddenly or violently, with or without human fault, and directly producing at the time objective findings of an injury which is more than simply a gradual deterioration or progressive degeneration.

(2) "Brother" and "sister" includes step-brothers and step-sisters, and brothers and sisters by adoption.

(3) "Child" or "children" covers only children born of marriage, step-children, posthumous children, adopted children, and children born outside of marriage who have been acknowledged under the provisions of the Civil Code.

(4) "Dependent" means the person or persons to whom, under the provisions of Part II of this Chapter, compensation shall be paid upon the death of the injured employee.

(5) "Assistant secretary" means the assistant secretary of the office of workers' compensation administration.

(6) "Health care provider" means a hospital, a person, corporation, facility, or institution licensed by the state to provide health care or professional services as a physician, hospital, dentist, registered or licensed practical nurse, pharmacist, optometrist, podiatrist, chiropractor, physical therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, graduate social worker or licensed clinical social worker, psychiatrist, or licensed professional counselor, and any officer, employee, or agent thereby acting in the course and scope of his employment.

(7) "Independent contractor" means any person who renders service, other than manual labor, for a specified recompense for a specified result either as a unit or as a whole, under the control of his principal as to results of his work only, and not as to the means by which such result is accomplished, and are expressly excluded from the provisions of this Chapter unless a substantial part of the work time of an independent contractor is spent in manual labor by him in carrying out the terms of the contract, in which case the independent contractor is expressly covered by the provisions of this Chapter. The operation of a truck tractor or truck tractor trailer, including fueling, driving, connecting and disconnecting electrical lines and air hoses, hooking and unhooking trailers, and vehicle inspections are not manual labor within the meaning of this Chapter.

(8)(a) "Injury" and "personal injuries" include only injuries by violence to the physical structure of the body and such disease or infections as naturally result therefrom. These terms shall in no case be construed to include any other form of disease or derangement, however caused or contracted.

(b) Mental injury caused by mental stress. Mental injury or illness resulting from work-related stress shall not be considered a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment and is not compensable pursuant to this Chapter, unless the mental injury was the result of a sudden, unexpected, and extraordinary stress related to the employment and is demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence.

(c) Mental injury caused by physical injury. A mental injury or illness caused by a physical injury to the employee's body shall not be considered a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment and is not compensable pursuant to this Chapter unless it is demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence.

(d) No mental injury or illness shall be compensable under either Subparagraph (b) or (c) unless the mental injury or illness is diagnosed by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist and the diagnosis of the condition meets the criteria as established in the most current issue of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders presented by the American Psychiatric Association.

(e) Heart-related or perivascular injuries. A heart-related or perivascular injury, illness, or death shall not be considered a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment and is not compensable pursuant to this Chapter unless it is demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that:

(i) The physical work stress was extraordinary and unusual in comparison to the stress or exertion experienced by the average employee in that occupation, and

(ii) The physical work stress or exertion, and not some other source of stress or preexisting condition, was the predominant and major cause of the heart-related or perivascular injury, illness, or death.

(9) "Office" means the office of workers' compensation administration established pursuant to R.S. 23:1291.

(10) "Owner operator" means a person who provides trucking transportation services under written contract to a common carrier, contract carrier, or exempt haulers which transportation services include the lease of equipment or a driver to the common carrier, contract carrier, or exempt hauler. An owner operator, and the drivers provided by an owner operator, are not employees of any such common carrier or exempt hauler for the purposes of this Chapter if the owner operator has entered into a written agreement with the carrier or hauler that evidences a relationship in which the owner operator identifies itself as an independent contractor. For purposes of this Chapter, owner operator does not include an individual driver who purchases his equipment from the carrier or hauler, and then directly leases the equipment back to the carrier or hauler with the purchasing driver.

(11) "Part-time employee" means an employee who as a condition of his hiring knowingly accepts employment that (a) customarily provides for less than forty hours per work week, and (b) that is classified by the employer as a part-time position.

(12) "Payor" means the entity responsible, whether by law or contract, for the payment of benefits incurred by a claimant as a result of a work related injury.

(13) "Wages" means average weekly wage at the time of the accident. The average weekly wage shall be determined as follows:

(a) Hourly wages.

(i) If the employee is paid on an hourly basis and the employee is employed for forty hours or more, his hourly wage rate multiplied by the average actual hours worked in the four full weeks preceding the date of the accident or forty hours, whichever is greater; or

(ii) If the employee is paid on an hourly basis and the employee was offered employment for forty hours or more but regularly, and at his own discretion, works less than forty hours per week for whatever reason, then, the average of his total earnings per week for the four full weeks preceding the date of the accident; or

(iii) If the employee is paid on an hourly basis and the employee is a part-time employee, his hourly wage rate multiplied by the average actual hours worked in the four full weeks preceding the date of the injury.

(iv) A part-time employee, as defined in R.S. 23:1021(9) and who is employed by two or more different employers in two or more successive employments, shall be entitled to receive benefits as follows:

(aa) If an employee is employed by two or more different employers in two or more successive employments and the employee incurs a compensable injury under the provisions of this Chapter in one of the employments, the employer in whose service the employee was injured shall pay the benefits due the employee as provided in this Chapter.

(bb) If the employee is a part-time employee in one of the successive employments, is injured in that employment, but as a result of the injury also incurs loss of income from other successive employments, that employee shall be entitled to benefits computed by determining wages under the provisions of this Subsection using his hourly rate in employment at the time of injury and using the total hours worked for all employers of the part-time employee, but not to exceed his average, actual weekly hours worked or forty hours weekly, whichever is less.

(v) For an employee in seasonal employment, his annual income divided by fifty-two.

(aa) For purposes of this Subparagraph, seasonal employment shall be any employment customarily operating only during regularly recurring periods of less than forty-four weeks annually.

(bb) If the employee was not engaged in the seasonal employment more than one year prior to the accident, his annual income shall be the average annual income of other employees of the same or most similar class working in the same or most similar employment for the same employer or, in the event that the employee was the only individual engaged in that specific employment, then his annual income shall be the average annual income of other employees of the same or most similar class working for a neighboring employer engaged in the same or similar employment.

(b) Monthly wages. If the employee is paid on a monthly basis, his monthly salary multiplied by twelve then divided by fifty-two.

(c) Annual wages. If the employee is employed at an annual salary, his annual salary divided by fifty-two.

(d) Other wages. If the employee is employed on a unit, piecework, commission, or other basis, his gross earnings from the employer for the twenty-six week period immediately preceding the accident divided by the number of days the employee actually worked for the employer during said twenty-six week period and multiplied by the average number of days worked per week; however, if such an employee has worked for the employer for less than a twenty-six week period immediately preceding the accident, his gross earnings from the employer for the period immediately preceding the accident divided by the number of days the employee actually worked for the employer during said period and multiplied by the average number of days worked per week.

(e) Exceptions. For municipal police officers, additional compensation paid by the state pursuant to R.S. 40:1667.3 shall not be included in the calculation and computation of total salary or average weekly wage to the extent such officer continues to receive such additional compensation during the period of his disability.

(f) Income tax. In the determination of "wages" and the average weekly wage at the time of the accident, no amount shall be included for any benefit or form of compensation which is not taxable to an employee for federal income tax purposes; however, any amount withheld by the employer to fund any nontaxable or tax-deferred benefit provided by the employer and which was elected by the employee in lieu of taxable earnings shall be included in the calculation of the employee's wage and average weekly wage including but not limited to any amount withheld by the employer to fund any health insurance benefit provided by the employer and which was elected by the employee in lieu of taxable earnings shall be included in the calculation of the employee's wage and average weekly wage.

(g) Date of accident. In occupational disease claims the date of the accident for purposes of determining the employee's average weekly wage shall be the date of the employee's last employment with the employer from whom benefits are claimed or the date of his last injurious exposure to conditions in his employment, whichever date occurs later.

Amended by Acts 1968, Ex. Sess., No. 25, §1; Acts 1975, No. 583, §1, eff. Sept. 1, 1975; Acts 1983, 1st Ex. Sess., No. 1, §§1, 6; eff. July 1, 1983; Acts 1987, No. 396, §1; Acts 1987, No. 494, §1; Acts 1988, No. 938, §1, eff. Jan. 1, 1989, and July 1, 1989; Acts 1989, No. 260, §1, eff. Jan. 1, 1990; Acts 1989, No. 454, §1, eff. Jan. 1, 1990; Acts 1991, No. 468, §1; Acts 1991, No. 565, §1; Acts 1993, No. 928, §2, eff. June 25, 1993; Acts 1995, No. 1137, §1, eff. June 29, 1995; Acts 1997, No. 423, §1; Acts 1997, No. 536, §1; Acts 1997, No. 1172, §4, eff. June 30, 1997; Acts 1999, No. 751, §1; Acts 1999, No. 1309, §5, eff. Jan. 1, 2000; Acts 2001, No. 288, §2; Acts 2001, No. 486, §2, eff. June 21, 2001; Acts 2001, No. 546, §1; Acts 2001, No. 1014, §§1 and 2, eff. June 27, 2001; Acts 2004, No. 26, §10; Acts 2004, No. 188, §1, eff. June 10, 2004; Acts 2004, No. 561, §1; Acts 2013, No. 337, §1; Acts 2014, No. 158, §§3 and 7.

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