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L4-5 Disc Injuries Are a Common Workplace Injury in Massachusetts

L4-5 disc injuries in the workplace are quite common. Doctors consider back pain to be as ubiquitous as the common cold and a back injury causes more loss of productivity in the workplace than other conditions. The L4-5 disc is located in your lower back. It is a pad between the vertebrae in your spine that allows the spine its flexibility and that moves the weight of your body from a higher to a lower bone. Discs like the L4-5 are especially susceptible to injury because they carry all of the weight from the top of your body, plus whatever you might be carrying. Injuries to this area can be sudden or gather intensity over time, and they can be minor or totally incapacitating.

The Worker’s Compensation Reviewing Board recently reviewed a case involving the L4-5 disc in Gary L. Bolles v. Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department. In 2000, the employee was working as a corrections officer when he suffered a back injury that affected his L4-5 disc. The employee was paid worker’s compensation benefits and went back to work, but as time passed his job aggravated his back injury. He left work again in May 2003 and again started receiving medical care for his back.

As required by worker’s compensation law, an impartial doctor examined the employee. He testified at his deposition that he neither taught nor maintained an active clinical practice. The employee moved to strike the doctor’s report and testimony on the grounds that because he didn’t teach or practice, the doctor did not qualify to be an impartial medical examiner as required under the rules. The judge denied the motion, but allowed both the employee and the insurer to submit their own medical reports. Nobody objected.

The judge adopted aspects of all reports that were submitted, concluding that the employee’s condition was permanent. He took into account the employee’s testimony about the worsening of his symptoms and the effect of his pain in his daily life. He also took into account the first doctor’s opinions that the L4-5 disc injury was work-related and he could not lift more than 20 pounds. Other doctors also substantiated these opinions. A fourth doctor opined that the employee was “disabled from any gainful employment given his lumbar radiculopathy.”

The self-insurer appealed the decision, on the grounds that (1) the judge shouldn’t have allowed the submission of additional medical evidence unless it was found that the issues were complex or the original doctor’s report was inadequate and that (2) the judge’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.

As to the first issue, the self-insurer had failed to object at the hearing, so the review board deemed the argument waived.

As to the second issue, the self-insurer argued that at a prior hearing decision, the judge found the employee only partially disabled and there was substantial similarity between the earlier and the later testimony. The self-insurer argued that the employee needed to demonstrate a worsening between the two hearings.

The review board reasoned that an agreement between the parties had placed the employee back on total incapacity benefits in 2008. That meant the self-insurer had removed the burden from the employee to prove he had worsened.

As you can see from this case case, back injuries can be debilitating. They can arise from common job requirements like sitting for long periods in front of a computer or lifting heavy objects. The matters ruled upon by the Worker’s Compensation Reviewing Board can be complex or rest on a technical point of which a layperson may be unaware. If you have suffered an injury in the workplace, the last thing you need is to worry about legal procedures. We can help you resolve the legal issues that arise from your job, so that you can choose one of the many different treatments possible, and be able to rest and recover. If you are concerned about your employer’s workers’ compensation coverage, ask an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney what you should do. Contact the workplace injury lawyers at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C., by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.

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