County of Santa Clara v. Workers' Compensation Appeals BoardAnnotate this Case
Justice, employed as a workers’ compensation claims adjuster since 1991, fell at work in 2011 and injured her left knee. She later developed problems in her right knee, which was found to be a compensable consequence of the first injury. In 2012-2013 Justice had total bilateral knee replacement. Dr. Anderson, an orthopedic surgeon, testified that there was significant preinjury degeneration in both knees, that knee replacement was not required because of the meniscus tear, and that the fall “hasten[ed]” the need for knee replacement by “lighting up the underlying pathology.” Anderson apportioned 50 percent of the bilateral knee disability to the nonindustrial, preexisting degeneration. The workers’ compensation judge determined that Justice had sustained permanent partial disability of 48 percent, worth $59,110.00, stating that “the need for these surgeries was at least partially non-industrial. … the surgeries appear to have significantly increased [Justice’s] ability to walk and engage in weight-bearing activities. The judge stated that before the 2017 Hikida decision, he would have awarded permanent disability with 50% apportionment but that Hikida precluded apportionment. The Appeals Board affirmed.
The court of appeal annulled the decision. Justice's permanent disability should have been apportioned between industrial and nonindustrial causes. Hikida, in which a medical treatment resulted in a new compensable consequential injury, is distinguishable. Here, there was unrebutted substantial medical evidence that Justice’s permanent disability was caused, in part, by preexisting pathology. Apportionment was required. Whether or not the workplace injury “directly caused” the need for surgery, the apportionment statutes demand that the disability be sorted among direct and indirect causal factors.