School Bus Driver Doesn’t Connect Wreck to Knee Pain

Frank Ferreri

Lake Charles, LA (WorkersCompensation.com) – It’s possible that a fender bender on the job could aggravate a pre-existing condition to the point of compensability.

However, in Joseph v. Iberia Parish School District, No. 20-386 (La. Ct. App. 11/25/20), a school bus driver didn’t present enough medical evidence linking an on-the-job collision to worsening knee pain she allegedly experienced.

‘Years and Years’

The driver claimed that she experienced shoulder, back, and knee injuries when an SUV backed into her bus despite reporting no pain at the time of the injury.

When her Louisiana school district sent her to a doctor, an x-ray revealed “moderate to severe degenerative joint disease.” The doctor opined that bone spurs and cystic changes that appeared in the x-ray “take years and years to develop.”

The driver continued to work but returned to the doctor with reports of worsening pain. The doctor concluded that she was unable to work safely as a bus driver and referred her to an orthopedist.

Despite the previous doctor indicating that the driver had a history of arthritis in her knees, the orthopedist indicated that the driver “never had … knee pain before.” He concluded that the driver had “end-stage arthrosis” in her knee that was aggravated by pressing the brake at the time of the collision.

At a hearing on the driver’s claim, the workers’ compensation judge ruled in the district’s favor, finding that the driver did not show that she experienced an injury or an aggravation of a pre-existing condition in the work-related accident.

The driver appealed to court.

Aggravated Condition?

Under Louisiana law, an employee’s injury is compensable when a preexisting condition is aggravated into a disabling injury on the job.

The court upheld the WCJ’s decision and explained that the driver’s evidence wasn’t enough to show that that the bus accident caused her knee pain. According to the court, it was up to the WCJ to make a credibility determination on the driver’s argument, and the WCJ carried out this obligation.

“The WCJ rejected her testimony, finding [the driver] to be a ‘poor historian’ who provided ‘misinformation’ regarding the accident,” the court reasoned. “That credibility determination was squarely in the province of the WCJ.”

The court pointed out that medical evidence in the case cast doubt on the driver’s version of events. In particular the court highlighted:

  • The first doctor’s opinion that the driver’s knee condition was too serious to be asymptomatic prior to the accident.
  • Video footage of the accident wasn’t enough to convince the orthopedist that the accident aggravated the driver’s injury.
  • The driver’s only evidence was her own testimony regarding her pre- and post-accident complaints.

In the court’s view, the WCJ adequately reviewed medical records, medical testimony, and video footage before determining that the driver’s injury wasn’t compensable.

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