In December of last year, the Michigan state legislature enacted major reform to the state’s workers’ compensation law. In an earlier blog post, we explained many of the major changes and how they may impact employers as well as injured employees. We’d like to call out one provision in particular that may have a major effect on claims – the new rules for what constitutes a “degenerative” condition and a “disability.”
Strain and sprain injuries are some of the most disputed workers compensation claims, because they are often the result of pre-existing medical conditions.
The new Michigan workers compensation law requires an injury “to be ‘medically distinguishable’ from an employee's prior condition in order to be compensable.” Any “ordinary disease of life to which the public was generally exposed” is not compensable under the new law.
The new law also specifically includes degenerative arthritis as a condition of the aging process, which is subject to a higher standard of proof. Only if the employee can show that it was contributed to, aggravated by, or accelerated by the employment in a significant manner is the injury compensable.
If you have an employee with a strain or a sprain injury, the new definition of degenerative and disability could help you strategize on how to handle this claim differently than you did under the old law. When an employee is injured in a non-specific event, we can send the employee to an orthopedic doctor that will help us establish whether the condition is degenerative in nature or truly work-related.
Perhaps requiring post offer/pre-placement MRIs or some other form of pre-employment testing may allow us to obtain a baseline of the employee’s medical condition at the time of hire. Also, having a medical provider document medical conditions or injuries they have had in the past could also be a very helpful tool when determining pathological changes between pre-injury and post-injury.
The threshold for recovering wage loss under the definition of a disability has been strengthened if the employee is unable to perform all jobs paying maximum wages. Wage earning capacity includes wages the employee is capable of earning at a job “reasonably available” to that employee, whether or not the wages are actually earned. A good faith job search effort can be utilized to determine whether jobs are available.