Harris v. Eastman Youth Development Center
The Court of Appeals held that whether claimant’s low-back pain was compensable wasnot an issue before ALJ at hearing on claimant’s request to have work-related injury declared catastrophic, so ALJ erred in determining that issue.
In June 2002, Harris was employed as a cook at the Eastman Youth Development Center when she was kicked in the left knee by a resident. The injury initially kept her out for six weeks, but she eventually returned to work on light duty. Approximately four to five months later, the pain in her knee worsened, and she developed low-back pain. The treating physician determined that her low-back pain was related to the alteration of her gait as a result of the knee injury. She stopped working in April 2003 and underwent two procedures to her knee. The treating physician ultimately recommended a total knee replacement and hoped the surgery would alleviate the pain in Harris’s knee and back.
After undergoing the total knee replacement surgery in 2007, Harris continued to experience worsening low-back pain and sought treatment. In March 2010, Harris again sought a catastrophic designation of her claim and continued payment for the weight-loss program. The
ALl denied both requests and, in doing so, also determined that any degeneration of Harris’s back as a result of the knee injury had been resolved by the knee surgery and that the Employer was no longer responsible for Harris’s low-back pain. The ALl further determined the continuing pain in Harris’s back was attributable to her “morbid obesity”. Therefore, the back injury was not causally related to the knee injury.
On appeal, the Appellate Court agreed with Harris that the ALl erred by making a determination as to the compensability of her low-back pain when that issue was not before the ALl Because there is no evidence Harris “had notice and an opportunity to be heard on the issue of compensability, or gave implied consent to trial of that issue, the ALI erred as a matter of law in making factual findings on that issue.”
On remand, the ALI was instructed to make a determination as to whether Harris’s claim met the criteria of a catastrophic injury. The ALI was advised to decide that issue without addressing the
compensability of her low-back pain which the Court noted the ALI had previously determined was compensable.