Home > Uncategorized > Res Judicata Fails to Save Defendant from Litigating Progression of Injury

Res Judicata Fails to Save Defendant from Litigating Progression of Injury

In the recent case of Mark Williams v. City of Pasadena, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board clarified the application of res judicata to workers’ compensation injuries.  Res judicata is the basic legal doctrine of precluding the re-trial or re-adjudication of the same matter.  In the Williams case, the defense argued that applicant’s application for benefits stemming from a claimed injury of hypertensive heart disease was barred because of the previously adjudicated injury of hypertension.

Just to clarify, hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a distinct as an injury from hypertensive heart disease, which is caused, apparently, by high blood pressure.

The factual background of this case is fairly straight-forward: applicant filed an application for alleged injuries to the neck, right shoulder, arm, and hand, as well as hypertension, sustained while employed as a police officer.  Both QMEs (this was a pre-2005 case) both found industrially-caused hypertension but found no impairment caused by the hypertension and no left ventricular hypertrophy.  The case settled by way of stipulation in 2005.

Then, applicant filed a second application claiming an injury to the heart in the form of hypertension and heart disease during a period of 1982-2002.  (If you’re wondering why this isn’t a petition to re-open, I direct you to Labor Code section 5803 — the application was filed in 2008).

So, as applicant signs his application, ready to jump into the world of workers’ compensation once more, the question of whether he has any hypertension-caused impairment has already been decided – tried, adjudicated, evaluated, researched, etc.  There is no hypertension-caused impairment.

And, at least according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, hypertensive heart disease is caused by … you guessed it! Hypertension.

The Workers’ Compensation Judge ruled that the hypertensive heart disease was a progression of applicant’s prior hypertensive condition, and was not a distinct injury, therefore the doctrine of res judicata applied.  The WCAB reversed, citing Western Growers Ins. Co. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd., for the holding that “one exposure may result in two distinct injuries … if a worker not only suffers a nervous breakdown but also develops an ulcer as a result of work- related stress, there would be two distinct injuries from one exposure.”

Now, far be it from your humble blogger to disagree with the learned wisdom of the Western Growers case.  After all, it makes sense as several body parts could be injured or several conditions can be contracted from one “exposure.”

But, in this case, we have a career-long cumulative trauma that results in, among other injuries, hypertension.  The applicant, with the advice and consent of his counsel, selected a qualified medical evaluator who agreed with the defense QME that there is no permanent impairment caused by his hypertension.

This isn’t the case of a nervous breakdown and an ulcer, this is the case of hypertension becoming hypertensive heart disease long after the claimed injury of exposure and after the issue was settled by stipulation.  In fact, the WCAB noted that the Agreed Medical Evaluator testified at his deposition that “applicant did not have ventricular hypertrophy when he was examined … on April 9, 2006 … the first evidence of hypertrophy was from the October 2006 reporting by [a cardiologist] from Kaiser.”

Be on your guard, dear readers, res judicata appears to be yet another medicine that has lost its potency in the world of workers’ compensation.

Categories: Uncategorized
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