Worker wins comp benefits despite underlying knee injury


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A Tennessee worker should receive workers compensation for a knee injury he suffered while at work, even though his injury was caused by an underlying knee condition that was unrelated to his job, a panel of the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled.

Eric Bike worked for a Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems Inc. warehouse in Memphis, Tennessee, where he wrapped pallets, packed boxes and loaded trailers. Court records show that he was injured in October 2009 when his knee cap moved out of place, then back into place, as he was stepping off a pallet at work.

Mr. Bike fell to the warehouse floor after the incident. Court filings state that Mr. Bike’s only injury was to his knee and that his injury was caused solely by the shift in his knee cap, not by his collapse.

Johnson & Johnson and its workers comp insurer, Philadelphia-based Indemnity Insurance Co. of North America, denied Mr. Bike’s claim for comp benefits related to his accident, finding that the injury was idiopathic and not compensable, filings show.

Mr. Bike appealed to the Shelby County, Tennessee, chancery court, records show. He noted that he was treated by a doctor recommended by Johnson & Johnson, who cleared Mr. Bike to return to work, as well as an orthopedic surgeon that he had selected on his own.

The orthopedic surgeon found that Mr. Bike had an “anatomical disposition” to having his knee cap move out of place, and that nothing particular about Mr. Bike’s work environment would have caused his injury, records show. However, the surgeon opined that Mr. Bike’s knee was in a position to shift when he stepped off the pallet at work.

The chancery court denied Mr. Bike’s workers comp claim, finding that his injury was caused by an idiopathic condition, rather than a special hazard in his workplace. Mr. Bike appealed.

The Tennessee Supreme Court Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel reversed the chancery court’s ruling Friday and granted comp benefits to Mr. Bike. The three-judge panel unanimously found that his injury arose out of his employment because Johnson & Johnson required him to step on and off pallets on a regular basis.

“Stepping on and off pallets was work that employee was required to do constantly and repeatedly during a workday. In this specific instance, the stepping off the pallet was essentially what caused the injury to occur when and how it did,” the ruling reads.

While Mr. Bike’s doctor found that his knee condition could have caused his injury to happen anywhere, the panel found that “stepping off of the pallet placed (his) knee in just the right position needed to trigger” an injury.

“As this movement, done repeatedly during the workday, caused (Mr. Bike’s) knee to be in a position that made it particularly vulnerable to slipping out of place, we hold that this work duty constituted a ‘special hazard’ … and contributed to causing the injury,” the ruling reads.

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