Manifest Error Standard Proves Difficult to Overcome

Claimant suffered a work accident on January 8, 2013 in which she fell out of her office chair injuring her left shoulder.  It was undisputed that Claimant had a pre-existing left shoulder injury for which she received treatment prior to the work accident.  However, Claimant contended that her pre-existing injury never affected her ability to work, but later the injury was aggravated by the work accident to the point that she was restricted from lifting more than five pounds.  The insurer ultimately denied compensation on the basis of the pre-existing injury.  Claimant then received surgery to repair her shoulder, and filed a disputed claim for compensation.  Employer argued that there was a symptomatic aggravation, but that there was no evidence that the left shoulder injury was worsened by the work accident, and further stressed that Claimant was already planning on receiving surgery prior to the work accident.  The Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC) found that Claimant did sustain a compensable work-related injury, that the shoulder surgery was reasonable, and that Claimant was entitled to compensation and medical benefits.

The court of appeal applied the “manifest error-clearly wrong” standard of review, in which a judgment of the OWC will not be set aside unless it is found to be clearly wrong in light of the record viewed in its entirety.   In addressing the issue of pre-existing injuries, the court noted that because an employer takes his employee as he finds him, a preexisting condition does not prevent recovery through workers’ compensation.  Aggravation of a preexisting condition may constitute a disabling injury when the plaintiff begins to suffer new symptoms.  Here, the conflicting views of the evidence between the parties was not enough for Employer to have the judgment reversed.  The court of appeal upheld the OWP judgment, finding no manifest error.  The court held that when there are two permissible views of the evidence, the fact-finder’s choice between them cannot be manifestly erroneous.

Mangiaracina v. Avis Budget Group, Inc.