Home > Defenses, Medical Treatment, Tactics and Strategy > Smashing Through the Eggshell Applicant Theory

Smashing Through the Eggshell Applicant Theory

Have you ever heard of the eggshell plaintiff (or applicant)?  Picture an employee made entirely of egg shells.  When a clumsy customer stumbles into the shop, he bumps into an ordinary employee without any noticeable damage, but when he bumps into Mr. Eggshell with the exact same amount of force… well… all the employer’s doctors and all the employer’s lawyers couldn’t put Mr. Eggshell back together again.

In other words, the defendant must take the injured worker as he finds him – with no discount for the gap between a typical employee and this super-sensitive one.

But what about apportionment?  If there is a non-industrial contribution to applicant’s impairment, shouldn’t that discount invalidate this “eggshell applicant” doctrine?  Of course it does – but only as to permanent disability.  Unfortunately, we can not apportion medical treatment, and 1% industrial causation imposes 100% liability for medical costs.

The reason, dear readers, that I serve you this omelet, for which eggs were most certainly broken, is because of a recent case – Karen Reff v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (writ denied).  Therein, applicant-nurse contracted occupational pneumonia which aggravated her pre-existing common variable immune deficiency, a genetic disease.

Applicant claimed that the industrially contracted pneumonia interacted with her pre-existing (and previously dormant) common variable immune deficiency, necessitating lifetime medical treatment, to wit, immunoglobulin deficiency replacement treatments.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge applied the eggshell plaintiff doctrine to hold defendant responsible for applicant’s future medical treatment.  Defendant naturally petitioned for reconsideration.

The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board granted defendant’s petition, reasoning that, based on the relevant medical information, applicant’s hospitalization would have eventually happened when something (any number of things) would have triggered here CVID.  Furthermore, it appears that the more likely reason doctors were continuing the immunoglobulin therapy was to treat the CVID and not the industrial injury.

To summarize, applicant claimed her non-industrial injury was made worse by the industrial one, and demanded defendant pay for her non-industrial treatment.  The WCJ agreed.  But the WCAB put the question to a different standard.

According to the WCAB, the proper inquiry is whether “the medical evidence indicates that within reasonable medical probability the normal progression of the non-industrial disease or condition would have resulted in disability regardless of the industrial injury.”

[In interpreting this standard, your humble author can’t help but muse whether mortality is a “non-industrial disease or condition” such that a death claim could be defeated by showing the result that would have occurred “regardless of the industrial injury.”  Of course, I don’t advise trying this argument.]

In other words, because many things will trigger the same effect in applicant’s non-industrial, pre-existing condition, the award of lifetime medical treatment is not justifiable.

The Court of Appeal denied applicant’s writ of review.

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