South Dakota’s highest court issued a ruling in favor of a worker who sought to recover workers’ compensation benefits.
A construction worker had a history of back injury dating back to 2010.
He said the injury resolved after two back surgeries in 2011, but medical records showed he had an injection in 2012 and that he refilled pain medication prescriptions in 2012 and 2013.
During a preemployment physical for a new employer in 2017, he reported no symptoms and was cleared to work a heavy-duty job without restrictions.
He then fell at work while exiting a work vehicle and injured his back. He was diagnosed as having a herniated disk, and he said the pain he experienced was similar to the pain he had experienced years earlier.
A state department of labor denied his claim for workers’ compensation benefits, saying he did not prove that the most recent injury caused his disabling condition.
An intermediate appeals court reversed that decision and ruled in favor of the employee. The employer then asked the state’s highest court to reinstate the initial finding in its favor.
High Court Affirms
The state’s highest court affirmed the intermediate court’s ruling in the employee’s favor.
It said the employee met his burden to show that the injury for which he sought workers’ compensation benefits arose out of and in the course of his employment with his then-current employer.
The state department of labor denied the claim on the basis that the employee did not show that his injury was caused by a workplace injury. But that was the wrong standard, the high court explained. The question, it said, was whether his work activities contributed to his injuries.
The evidence showed that they did, the court decided.
A preemployment physical showed he had no symptoms, and his back became sore only after an incident at work.
Under state law, the employee was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if he could further show that his work activities were a major contributing cause of his condition. There was enough medical testimony to show that his work activities contributed in a major way to his condition.
The employee was entitled to benefits.
Hughes v. Dakota Mill and Grain, Inc., No. 29091, 2021 WL 1916631 (S.D. 5/12/21).