Claimants frequently experience more than one workplace accident throughout the course of their career. Typically, an old injury with an ex-employer will not have a big impact on how to manage a new workers’ compensation claim. It becomes confusing, however, when an employee injures the same body part with different employers at different times. If there are multiple similar injuries, what are the EC’s obligations and defenses?
Section 440.09(1)(b) does not allow ECs to refuse payment of benefits due to an injured worker’s preexisting condition if that condition is the result of an earlier industrial accident. The result of this law is to limit questions regarding major contributing cause of an employee’s injuries when all of those injuries fall under the workers’ compensation system. This leaves one option available to subsequent ECs who find itself facing a potentially serious injury that first began with another employer – contribution and reimbursement.
In the event an industrial accident results in an injury similar to one with a former employer, the EC has a right to contribution from the prior EC for any treatment or benefits that are related to the first accident. For example, if an employee strains his low back and receives treatment under workers’ compensation, but the issues with low back never fully resolved, it is reasonable to conclude that the prior injury would contribute to a more serious low back injury several years later. Contribution and reimbursement allocates responsibility between different ECs so that the result is more equitable.
In order to preserve the right to contribution and/or reimbursement, ECs must investigate the injured worker’s history to identify any prior industrial accidents. This includes searching for other claims and fully researching the employee’s medical history. Next, the appropriate EC must be identified. It is important to name the correct parties when moving for contribution. Finally, the EC must ask for contribution or reimbursement. This is done by a Motion for Contribution filed with the OJCC. This will put all parties on notice of multiple injuries giving rise to a legitimate claim for contribution.
Be aware that even if all of the above elements are met, however, there is no right to contribution from an EC that has settled the injured worker’s claims. EC #2 is able to assert a claim for contribution against EC #1 only so long as EC #1 has an ongoing obligation to provide benefits to the injured employee. If EC #1 has eliminated its future responsibilities to the claimant by settling, EC #2 has no viable claim for contribution.
With diligent management and investigation of claims, it is possible to make sure you are not held solely responsible for injuries that should be fairly distributed amongst several ECs.