Dunn v. Sunrise Senior Living

Insurance Company

Sedgwick Claims Management Services

Date Decided

September 28, 2015

Panel Members

Timothy Collier

Elizabeth Elwin

Sue Jerome


Pre-Existing Injury Legal Causation Pre-Existing Injury


Pre-Existing Back Arm Causation Gradual Injury

File Size

151 KB


Summary from the Troubh Heisler Attorneys

The panel affirmed Judge Stovall’s denial of Dunn’s petition for award. Dunn appealed claiming Judge Stovall erred in (1) finding no legal causation and (2) failing to consider her work activity over her entire career when assessing whether she suffered a gradual injury.

Denise Dunn worked as a nurse in various capacities for over twenty-two years. She sustained injuries to her back in 1993, 1996, and 2005, and to her right arm in 2007. She was out of work from October 2008 through September 2010 due to her injuries. Ms. Dunn began working for Sunrise Senior Living on May 16, 2011.This was a largely sedentary position.

In September of 2011 Dunn sought treatment for low back/leg pain. On December 22, 2011, Dr. Pavlak restricted her to working forty hours per week with no on-call hours due to an unrelated shoulder/neck problem.

To establish legal causation when a pre-existing condition exists, the employee must demonstrate that the employment contributed some substantial element that increased the risk of injury when compared to the personal risk existing due to the pre-existing condition. This comparison is made against an objective standard.

The panel held that Judge Stovall recited the proper standard for legal causation. Moreover, Ms. Dunn failed to engage in the comparative risk analysis. Multiple witnesses testified that Dunn’s job was primarily sedentary, with little physical activity. In addition, Dr. Pavlak stated in a 9/12/11 report that Dunn’s current back condition is “just the natural history of her problem over time.” Together these facts support Judge Stovall’s conclusion that Ms. Dunn had not established legal causation. As a result, the panel did not address Ms. Dunn’s second issue on appeal.

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