I have a ‘desk’ job where I work 8 hours a day. About 6 months after I started, I began experiencing severe lower back pain. My office chair would frequently ‘drop’ down to a low position while sitting in it. I began seeing my chiropractor frequently due to the pain I was having. (I have routinely seen a chiropractor for routine adjustments).
My chiropractor determined that my office chair was causing my back pain and sent a letter to my employer requesting that I get an ergonomic chair that not only supported my lumbar, but also more appropriately fit me and my office set up.
My direct supervisor did nothing about the request, stating our department administrative assistant did not know how to order a chair. For the next 2 months, I continued to periodically ask for a new chair that was not broken and would not randomly drop me to the floor. I also continued to see my chiropractor for continued and increased pain.
Two weeks ago, my chair again dropped, jarring my back and causing severe pain that radiated down my leg. I got up from the chair and tried to ‘walk it off’, but instead my back totally ‘locked up’ in a severe muscle spasm. I could not move and went to the hospital via EMS for treatment.
The ER physician diagnosed me with a lumbar strain and muscle spasms, and put me out of work for 2 days.
I called the workers’ comp case management company while in the ER. They sent me for follow up with an occupational medicine physician who agreed it was the chair that had caused my back injury.
He put me on light duty, ordered physical therapy, prescribed muscle relaxers, etc. I was to return to him in 1 week. In the meantime, my claim was sent to an investigator, not adjuster, and all of my treatment was placed on hold. I could not get therapy, or return to the occupational medicine doctor.
Today, after multiple phone calls to the adjuster and inspector, I was finally told that my entire claim had been denied due to evidence of a previous back injury.
The investigator stated that I had been seeing the chiropractor since 2011, essentially proving that I have or had a previous back injury. However, the frequency of those visits ranged from 1-2 times a year until November, when the frequency increased to almost weekly.
Does my employer have a duty to provide a safe working environment (in this case an appropriate office chair) and are they not liable for my injury, especially since it’s on record with them since November that my chair was broken and causing me back pain? Given all of this information, is my claim’s denial reasonable and appropriate? What are my options for next steps?
Your employer is not under a legal duty to provide you with an ergonomic chair. Employers are certainly required to provide safe work environments for their workers, but that usually refers to keeping workers away from such things as noxious or toxic odors, faulty and dangerous machinery, and other conditions which can seriously injure a worker.
Workers’ compensation laws only require an employer take reasonable action to make a worker’s environment safe from injury, as long as doing so does not result in a financial hardship to the employer. In most cases, this does not include providing a worker with an ergonomic chair.
To overturn the workers’ comp decision to deny you coverage will take evidence showing your prior visits to the chiropractor were entirely unrelated to back pain or discomfort. This may be accomplished by seeking copies of your chiropractic records and presenting them to the workers’ comp representative.
If this does not result in a reverse decision, your next step will be to file an appeal, or seek the advice and counsel of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.
Learn more here: Back Injuries at Work
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