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COA: physical condition, injury equal one injury

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The Indiana Court of Appeals isn't convinced it needs to address the issue of pre-existing, non-work related physical conditions as it relates to a pizzeria cook's worker compensation case.

A ruling today in PS2, LLC, d/b/a Boston's Gourmet Pizza v. Adam Childers, No. 93A02-0902-EX-176, affirmed an order from the Indiana Worker's Compensation Board. A single administrative member last year had determined the injured cook was entitled to a secondary medical treatment relating to his injury and continued payment of temporary total disability benefits. On review, the full board in February affirmed that decision.

Childers was struck in the back by a freezer door in March 2007 and sustained an injury to his lower back. The record states that at the time of the accident, the 25-year-old was 6 feet tall, weighed 340 pounds, and smoked about 30 cigarettes a day. His treatment at first included medication and then physical therapy, but the latter was stopped because of worsening pain. A doctor recommended he lose weight in order to continue the treatment. However, Childers gained weight and surgery was explored as an option.

But the employer disagreed that it should have to pay for weight-reduction treatment and argued against the finding that Childers' pre-existing physical condition and inability to lose weight combined with a workplace injury produced a "single injury."

On appeal, Boston cited the state's Apportionment Statute at Indiana Code Section 22-3-3-12 that attempts to separate those workplace injuries from pre-existing impairments or disabilities that may or may not be related. Boston argues that the statute shows it would go against Indiana's public policy to hold an employer responsible for any medical condition resulting from another employment or cause. It recommended the Indiana Court of Appeals consider decisions from other jurisdictions - Louisiana, Florida, Wyoming, California, Oregon, Ohio, and South Dakota - that had considered the issue.

But the appellate judges found that Boston didn't show evidence that Childers had a weight problem impairing his health or requiring medical intervention prior to the workplace injury. After his injury, though, he was nearly immobile and that caused his weight to rise, the court wrote.

"We find Indiana law and the reasoning of the cases relied upon by the Board sufficient to our task, and to sustain the Board's award," Judge Carr Darden wrote for the unanimous panel.

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