Supreme Court “Polices the Boundaries” of the Two-Causes Rule

The two-causes rule was established by the Supreme Court of Virginia in Bergmann v. L & W Drywall, 222 Va. 30 (1981). The Court in Bergmann determined that when there are two causes of a claimant’s disability, one related to a work accident and one unrelated, benefits are awarded when the cause related to the work accident contributes to the disability.

Recently, the application of the two-causes rule was put to the test in front of the Supreme Court of Virginia in the case of Carrington v. Aquatic Co., No. 180243, 2019 Va. LEXIS 80 (July 18, 2019). In this case, the claimant was partially disabled as a result of a left arm injury sustained in a compensable work accident and began working full-time light-duty for the employer at his regular wage. Subsequently, the claimant was placed totally out of work due to pre-existing polycystic kidney disease. The claimant applied for temporary total disability benefits and argued he was entitled to benefits because his left arm injury contributed to his total disability. His claim was denied by both the Commission and the Court of Appeals of Virginia, and he eventually appealed up to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

The Supreme Court of Virginia upheld the decision of the lower courts to deny the claimant temporary total disability benefits. In upholding the lower court’s decisions, the Supreme Court articulated two helpful guiding principles applicable to the two-causes rule. First, the Supreme Court noted that the rule applies when a compensable cause and a non-compensable cause “combine to produce the same disabling condition.” Id. at *5. Second, the Supreme Court outlined that the two-causes rule does not apply in cases where the two causes “result in dissimilar disabilities.” Id.

In Carrington, the claimant’s left arm injury (the compensable cause) did not contribute in any way to his total disability, which was solely caused by his kidney disease (the non-compensable cause). Further, the left arm injury contributed to a dissimilar disability (partial disability) than the kidney disease (total disability). Thus, the Supreme Court ruled that the two-causes rule did not apply. The clarity presented by the decision in Carrington will hopefully dissuade Deputy Commissioners from attempting to expand the two-causes rule beyond its proper application and thus keep employers and insurers from paying out unwarranted benefits.

Should you have any questions about this case or other legal issues, please do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Ford Richardson.

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