Legal Question in Workers Comp in Illinois

I am employed as a deliver driver for a major soda company ,I was wondering if there are normally any permanent restrictions from a lumbar fusion on l4-l5

Asked on 12/04/13, 2:41 pm

3 Answers from Attorneys

Matt Belcher Belcher Law Office

The short answer is that most people with a fusion get better, but seldom go back to feeling like nothing is wrong with their back.

A lumbar fusion is a serious procedure used to alleviate back pain that is more than just related to compressive disc pathologies, such as a "pinched" nerve from a herniated disc.

Each person's recovery is unique but the operation is less designed to "cure" the patient than to restore maximum function and decrease pain to the best of the doctor's ability.

I would suggest that your occupation may require greater lifting than your capacity after a fusion; however, many people bounce back pretty well. I think you likely need a very skilled spine surgeon and an equally skilled legal professional to protect your ability to earn wages and return to maximum capacity after such a major procedure. I have had many clients with fusions both lumbar and cervical and they have been satisfied with the end result.

Best of luck!

Matt Belcher

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Answered on 12/04/13, 3:01 pm
Charles Candiano Candiano Law Office

In my experience, it would be the rare exception that no permanent restrictions are imposed after this procedure.

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Answered on 12/05/13, 4:55 am
Jason Marker Marker & Assosiates, Attorneys at Law, P.C.

Please head some advise as I feel you have a very serious situation that demands the proper attention....

Essentially, you need to make sure your doctor is doing the right thing and that his return to work opinion was based upon a proper handling of your case.

The answer to your question is that whether one can return to work full duty after a fusion all depends on what your doctor feels you can or can't do after your surgery and whether he gives you any permanent restrictions or not. Typically, after your surgery you undergo physical therapy. At some point, you complete all of the therapy and plateau. The doctor should typical then review a job description of your position in order to determine whether you have met the requirements of the job - in terms of lifting and moving.

Most times, if the doctor feels it is questionable whether you can return to work or not, he should order a functional capacity evaluation (FCE) which is essentially a PT exam where you will be required to do different activities (and you must give maximum effort or they will know) in order for the doctor to determine what your maximum capabilities are.

As a delivery driver, I would assume that your job requires you to do a significant amount of lifting. Jobs are categorized in terms of "Heavy", Medium" or "Light". Most likely, yours is considered within the medium to heavy category. That being said, the doctor should not release you without having reviewed your job description (which he could request from your employer or the insurance carrier if this is a WC matter or you can certainly request this from your employer yourself also) and determining whether you can do the activities of your job.

After the FCE is performed, if the doctor feels you have gained all of your motion back and so forth, then he/she could certainly release you to return to work full duty. If not, the doctor will give you a permanent restriction based on the findings of the FCE and advise you cannot return to your prior job. If that is the case, your situation is of course much larger because you cannot return to the job and you will likely loose wages as any other job you might find will probably pay less. Under the law, the employer is required to help you find a new job (vocational assistance) and once you find a new job, they are required to pay you 2/3 of any difference in pay through age 67 - which of course could be very significant.

I would agree with the other attorneys here - that it depends on the person - their age, and other factors - as to their outcome after surgery, etc. Generally though, to come away with no restrictions after a fusion surgery is pretty rare. This is why I would find it hard to believe you have been released full duty if an FCE was never performed.

If this is a WC case, I would highly recommend you speak to an attorney and consider getting some representation before doing anything further. You need to make sure the doctor has properly exhausted this issue (ordered an FCE and reviewed a job description) of whether you can ACTUALLY return to work and do the job duties of a delivery driver, because, if you cannot - you are entitled to much more benefits.

So, don't take this lightly and think the insurance carrier will do anything to ensure you get these benefits. Rather, they will do everything they can to make sure they get an opinion that you can return to work - because the settlement of that case is much less for them. You have a very serious situation and an experienced WC attorney can help you through this.

Good luck,

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Answered on 12/05/13, 7:09 am

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