Industrial Commission Is Free To Decide on Its Own Whether Injured Worker Is Entitled To “Multiplicity Factor” Combining Disability Effects of Right and Left Knee Injuries

The case of Kolar v. First Student, Inc. was decided on September 2, 2015 by the Eastern District Missouri Court of Appeals. The case involved a 400 lbs. bus driver who fell in a grassy area and injured his right knee, breaking his tibia and fibula bones of his right leg. During his medical treatment for his right knee injury Kolar began to have pain in his left leg, which he attributed to putting more weight on that leg to take pressure off his injured right leg.

The company-selected doctor who treated Kolar was of the opinion that Kolar’s left knee problems were not caused by the right knee injury resulting in overuse of the left knee but instead by normal long-term, degenerative arthritis. The injured employee, Mr. Kolar, hired an attorney who filed his claim and sent him to an evaluating doctor who later testified at a workers compensation hearing that his left knee pain was due to his left knee-leg joint (patellofemoral) syndrome and mistracking from all the abnormal weight-bearing required and caused by Kolar’s over-reliance on and overuse of his left knee after his right knee was injured by his fall on the job.

The administrative law judge hearing the case awarded the injured worker Kolar permanent disability for both his right knee from the fall at work and his left knee from over-reliance on the that knee during treatment and recovery of his right knee. In addition the judge found and applied a multiplicity or load factor of some 12.5%, increasing the number of total disability weeks from the right knee and left knee injuries by that number of additional weeks of disability.

The injured worker felt he should have gotten total disability in combination of all his preexisting disabilities from the accident added to his disability from the work accident and appealed the judge’s decision to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission. Employer/Insurer filed their own appeals of the judge’s decision, claiming that a strict (literal) reading of the Missouri Workers’ Compensation Law did not permit any judge or the Commission to tack on a load or multiplicity factor to the disability weeks from each affected leg since such a factor is never specifically authorized or mentioned anywhere in that law, but only in case law interpreting Missouri’s Workers’ Compensation Law. They also claimed a lack of medical evidence that the left leg injury following the right leg slip and fall knee injury was ever caused by Kolar’s overuse of the left leg after the injury to his right leg.

As so often happens, both the injured worker’s attorney and the Employer/Insurer’s attorney argued to the Missouri Court of Appeals that each side’s own doctors’ opinions should have been believed and the other side’s doctors’ opinions disbelieved. The Missouri Court of Appeals decided in favor of the injured worker on almost all issues. It agreed with the Labor & Industrial Relations Commission which agreed with the administrative law judge in finding that Mr. Kolar’s right knee injury suffered from his fall at work resulted in overuse of and thereby eventual injury to his left knee, which likewise qualified as a work-related injury in a kind of causal chain reaction.

The appeals court also approved the application of a multiplicity or load factor to increase the overall combined disability of the right knee injury with the resulting left knee injury, even though no such factor was ever mentioned anywhere to be found in the Missouri Workers Compensation Law. The court found it sufficient that such a factor to enhance the overall work disability of opposing knee, wrist, elbow or shoulder injuries on both sides resulting from the same work accident was sufficient to legally justify applying such a factor to enhance and increase total disability.

It ought to be pointed out that while the Missouri Labor & Industrial Relations Commission (the first appeal from a workers’ comp judge’s decision) can change any fact or legal ruling of the judge who heard the case, it will usually go along with the judge’s determinations of the facts and credibility of all witnesses, including medical expert witnesses. Similarly, the Missouri Court of Appeals, as well as the Missouri Supreme Court, will almost always go along with and approve whatever findings of fact and credibility determinations are made by the Commission. Appellate bodies such as the Commission and courts of appeals above it generally go out of their way not to second guess the fact findings and credibility determinations— believing one witness over another— of the Missouri workmens compensation administrative law judge who hears all the witnesses at the original trial of the case.

One good reason a worker injured on the job in a work accident really should consult and hire a lawyer is that even when the company finally sends you out to a doctor for treatment, the doctors they choose for treatment will do everything they can to deny or minimize the worker’s injuries. They will go out of their way to blame any work injuries on pre-existing degeneration (like arthritis) or previous injuries they can find.

A good, experienced hard-fighting workers compensation attorney can gather up all the medical treatment records and send the injured worker out for an evaluation by medical experts who will work in the employee’s interests and enable the injured worker to prove his case to a workers compensation judge. If you get hurt on the job in the course of your work for an employer you need to go consult and then hire a good attorney to fight for your rights to enforce your rights the company denies you. Then your attorney needs to keep fighting for you through many appeals, hopefully to win in the end.

St. Louis Workers Compensation Center can defend your rights to workers compensation benefits and demand treatment and money benefits. They can help you fight to enforce your legal rights to benefits. They can fight to keep the company from cancelling or underpaying your benefits and can often punish them for arbitrarily refusing to pay or cutting off your benefits for no good reason even though they should have known better.

Please call Tom Hyatt for advice and assistance on any work-related injury suffered on the job in either St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Warren County, Franklin County, Lincoln County, Jefferson County, or any other counties in eastern Missouri within 125 miles of the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. Our consultations are completely free of charge. Tom Hyatt will talk to you about your case right away. He will fight as hard he can to enforce all of your rights to Missouri workers compensation benefits. Our attorney’s fee would be a modest percentage of the Missouri workers’ comp disability benefits we get for you. Please call now for a free consultation. (See Contact Us).

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