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Workers' Compensation - Standard of Review - Cumulative Injuries

Enterprise Leasing Company-South Central, LLC v. Drake, [Ms. 2170870, Jan. 4, 2019] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2019). (Moore, J.; Thompson, P.J., and Pittman, Thomas, and Donaldson, JJ., concur). The court unanimously reverses a judgment entered by the Jefferson Circuit Court awarding the employee workers’ compensation benefits for injuries to both knees.

The plaintiff employee testified that he had injured his left knee in an on-the-job accident. Ms. *4. He testified that as a result of the injury to his left knee, he put more strain on his right knee, which caused problems in that knee as well. Ms. *4.

The trial court awarded plaintiff compensation for impairments to both knees. The employer appealed, contending, inter alia, that the trial court erred in awarding compensation for the right knee injury because the court failed to apply the clear-and-convincing evidence standard applicable to injuries allegedly resulting from gradual or cumulative physical stress. Ms. *8.

The court found this issue dispositive, holding that

[T]he trial court used an incorrect evidentiary standard when determining the compensability of the employee’s right-knee injury, [and] we reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand the cause to the trial court for it to enter an amended judgment applying the correct clear-and-convincing evidence standard in deciding that claim. We instruct the trial court, on remand, to review the evidence adduced at trial and to determine whether the employee proved by clear and convincing evidence that his right-knee injury was a direct and natural consequence of his left-knee injury and to amend its judgment to make appropriate findings of fact using the correct evidentiary standard and to make any and all other amendments necessary to its judgment based on its determination.

Ms. *14-15.

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