Archie Crawford (Employee) was employed as a lead operator for Island Operating Co., Inc. (Employer) on an offshore oil production platform. Employee was taken by helicopter to an offshore platform to begin a week-long shift. While disembarking the helicopter, Employee’s knee buckled and he fell down two stairs. He filled out an accident report but performed his job duties for the rest of the day. When he awoke the next morning, he experienced numbness in his left foot and three fingers on his left hand. Employee asked his supervisor to send a replacement so that a physician could examine him, as there were no physicians on the platform. His request was denied.
Employee’s condition continued to worsen. Two days after his fall, he experienced numbness in his upper body. On the third day, he felt more pronounced numbness in his chest. Employee continued to request relief to see a physician, but his repeated requests were denied. By the fourth day, he could not walk. Finally, on the fifth day, Employee was replaced by a relief operator and was taken by helicopter to the hospital where physicians diagnosed him with a stroke. He has not returned to work since his diagnosis.
Employee filed a claim for benefits under the LHWCA against Employer/Carrier. An ALJ found that Employee’s stroke was a preexisting condition not caused by Employee’s work but aggravated by his working conditions because of the time he spent on the offshore platform before he was able to seek treatment. Employee had also suffered a shoulder injury, which the ALJ found was caused by his fall. Employee was awarded TTD benefits from the time he left the platform until he reached MMI, and continuing PTD. Employer/Carrier appealed the ALJ’s decision and order to the BRB, and the BRB affirmed. Employer/Carrier then appealed the order of the BRB to the Fifth Circuit.
On appeal to the Fifth Circuit, Employer/Carrier contended that they produced sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption that working conditions aggravated Employee’s condition. Employer/Carrier argued that (1) Employee’s stroke was a preexisting condition that likely began before he fell on the steps and was unrelated to work; (2) Employee did not report that he was experiencing symptoms of a stroke until at least twenty-four hours after his fall; (3) because blood thinner was not administered within three hours of the stroke’s onset, Employee’s stroke had already caused permanent and irreversible damage by the time he reported his symptoms; and thus, (4) Employee’s condition was caused solely by his own inaction and could not have been caused by his working conditions.
However, on appeal to the BRB, Employer/Carrier challenged only the ALJ’s finding that Employee was entitled to the presumption under Section 920(a) of the LHWCA that working conditions had aggravated the disability resulting from Employee’s stroke. Though the ALJ found that Employer/Carrier failed to present substantial evidence to rebut the presumption that working conditions aggravated Employee’s stroke-related disability, Employer/Carrier neglected to challenge this finding on appeal to the BRB. The Fifth Circuit, therefore, found Employer/Carrier waived this argument by failing to raise it before the BRB.
Consequently, the inquiry before the Fifth Circuit focused on whether Employee set out sufficient facts to entitle him to the Section 920(a) presumption. This is a relatively low threshold to meet; it required Employee to set out that conditions existed at work that could have caused, aggravated, or accelerated his stroke. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the BRB finding that substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s inference that the damage caused by Employee’s stroke was aggravated by the six days he spent on the offshore platform before he received treatment. Hence, Employee was entitled to the presumption under Section 920(a). Because this was the only issue properly preserved on appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the order of the BRB upholding the ALJ’s decision and order awarding compensation to Employee.