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It’s not a disability if you’re going to get better

Cobey v. Geren, Civil Action No. 1:08-cv-406 (E.D. Va. February 18, 2010). As the result of a work-related injury plaintiff was placed on light duty for about a week, after which she was released to work without limitations. A few weeks later, plaintiff was in a car accident and was out of work for twelve days. Immediately after the accident she was treated for back and shoulder pain. Her doctor found that her prior medical history was noncontributory to her current injuries and noted that her prognosis for recovery time was slow, but that her overall prognosis was favorable, which her doctor later elaborated on to mean that she would make a full recovery. Two days after plaintiff returned to work, she left again by ambulance and never returned. About three weeks later, her doctor found that her pain had greatly improved and noted that plaintiff ranked her pain level as one on a scale of ten.

Plaintiff’s complaint alleged eight claims, all but one of which were quickly dismissed. The remaining claim under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Act”), alleged that the defendant employer had discriminated against plaintiff by denying her reasonable accommodation after she injured her back. An essential part of the definition of “disabled” under the Act is that the plaintiff must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The court found, though, that a temporary medical condition generally does not qualify as a disability under the Act, even if it requires an extended leave of absence from work. In other words, an impairment is not a substantial limitation on a major life activity if it is expected to improve in a relatively short period of time. In this case, the plaintiff’s doctor’s notes all indicated that the plaintiff was improving and would likely recover; therefore, the court held, she was not disabled for the purposes of the Act. The court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and the case was dismissed.

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