In January 2020, the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed a decision of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission and deputy commissioner finding that an injured worker was entitled to permanent total disability benefits for the loss of two limbs “in the same accident” even though the underlying injuries were separated by two years. Merck & Co. v. Vincent, 2020 Va. App. LEXIS 18 (Va. Ct. App. Jan. 14, 2020). If you or a loved one have sustained multiple injuries at your workplace, contact a Richmond workers’ compensation attorney to ensure you are maximizing your benefits.
In Merck, the worker injured his left arm and neck in a 2009 work-related accident; he was awarded temporary total disability benefits, which were affirmed by the Commission and the employer did not appeal. The worker required surgery to treat his injuries.
In 2011, the worker became dizzy and fell as a result of pain medication he was taking while recovering from surgery for the 2009 injuries; he injured his knee in the fall. The worker was awarded compensation for the knee injury “as a compensable consequence of the original work-related injury.”
In 2017, the worker requested total and permanent disability pursuant to Virginia Code § 65.2-503(C), which provides for compensation for permanent and total incapacity for the “[l]oss of both hands, both arms, both feet, both legs, both eyes, or any two thereof in the same accident.” The deputy commissioner awarded compensation, but the employer sought review.
The employer argued that the 2011 knee injury did not occur “in the same accident” as the 2009 arm injury and, therefore, was not compensable. Upon review, the Commission affirmed the award and the employer appealed.
Two Separate Injuries Occurring Years Apart Can Be From the “Same Accident”
The Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission concluding that because the compensable consequence doctrine ascribes the occurrence of new injuries that naturally follow from the original injury to the original accident, the new injury occurs “in the same accident” pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 65.2-503(C). Therefore, the worker’s 2011 leg injury arose “in the same accident” as the 2009 arm injury and he was entitled to permanent total disability benefits.
The compensable consequence doctrine provides that when a primary injury arises during the course of employment, every natural consequence that flows from the injury also arises out of the employment unless the consequence is the result of an independent intervening cause arising from the worker’s own intentional conduct. When considering this doctrine and the statute, the court noted that there does not have to be a separate accident for the injury to be compensable—the new injury only has to be the natural result or consequence of the original injury. Interpreting the compensable consequence doctrine any other way would result in inconsistent interpretations of the term “injury” within the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act.
The court recognized that the purpose of the requirement that the injuries occur “in the same accident” is to protect employers from being obligated to compensate workers for injuries that are not connected to their employment. However, when an employee sustains two injuries during the same period of employment, “[h]e is just as totally and permanently incapacitated as if the harm had been the result of one and the same disaster.”
The employer conceded that the worker lost two limbs (arm and leg) within the meaning of the statute. Therefore, the worker was entitled to two hundred weeks of compensation when he lost the use of his left arm; when he lost the use of his leg because of medication he was taking for his arm injury, his compensation was extended to the remainder of his life.
If you have been injured in a work-related accident and then sustain a second injury, which can be attributed to the first injury, your injuries may be deemed to arise out of the “same accident.” This may impact the types of benefits or duration of workers’ compensation benefits you are entitled to.
The Virginia workers’ compensation process is complex, so it is best to consult with a knowledgeable Virginia workers’ compensation attorney. At Renfro & Renfro, our team is experienced in handling Virginia workers’ comp matters throughout the entire lifecycle of a claim. Whether you have just sustained a work-related injury or your claim was denied, we are prepared to fight on your behalf. Using our in-depth knowledge of employers and insurers in workers’ compensation, we aggressively promote your interests and protect your rights. Contact us today for a free consultation.