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The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals recently released an opinion wherein it considered the difference between a temporary flare versus a permanent aggravation of a preexisting condition. InMadison Academy v. Hanvey, the plaintiff, worked as a janitor on the defendant’s campus. In May and June 2011, Hanvey was exposed to chemicals at work which aggravated her respiratory system. The symptoms continued to get worse over the next few months.
It was not until September 2011 that Hanvey was finally diagnosed with a rare disease known as myesthenia gravis (MG). Her doctors treated the disease, and by March 2012, Hanvey’s symptoms were gone and her condition was stable. Although MG cannot be cured, it can be controlled with the right medication. The medical evidence showed that Hanvey’s MG existed before her exposure to the chemicals at work and was not caused by the exposure. Her doctors stated that the preexisting condition was temporarily aggravated by the chemicals, but not worsened.
The trial court found that Hanvey was totally and permanently disabled due to her exposure to the chemicals at work. On appeal, Madison Academy argued that the root of Hanvey’s disability was her MG which the evidence indicated was not caused by her employment. And since the temporary flare up had resolved, they believed they were no longer responsible for providing benefits under the Act.
The Appeals Court noted that Hanvey’s MG was aggravated, but found that there was no evidence that the chemicals had worsened the underlying condition. Once the temporary aggravation had resolved, Hanvey was back to her baseline condition and no longer entitled to benefits since there was no permanent injury. Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court’s award of permanent and total disability benefits.
My Two Cents:
The Court of Appeals has made it very clear that employers in Alabama will not be responsible for disability stemming from preexisting conditions which are not permanently worsened by a work accident. In cases where the employment temporarily exacerbates a preexisting condition, the employer is only responsible for providing benefits for the temporary disability period caused by a work accident. Any other resulting disability from the natural progression of an underlying or preexisting condition is not compensable.
About the Author
This post was written by Trey Cotney, Esq. of Fish Nelson LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation matters. Fish Nelson is a member of the National Workers’ Compensation Network (NWCDN). If you have any questions about this article or Alabama workers’ compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or any firm member at 205-332-3430.