Workers Compensation Injuries May Happen From Changes In Job Duties

People who suffer injuries at work often suffer from other ailments. On many occasions, an employer may at first accommodate these other conditions. Unfortunately, when an employer changes the original work conditions, many workers feel trapped. In the following case, a man attempted to accommodate a job change. The result was a worsened medical condition. The man wisely sought out the help of work comp lawyers.

The issue was whether the injured worker suffered a repetitive trauma injury, in the form of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) in his left hand. Though the injured worker had other medical limits, the CTS was what really ended his employment.

The employer’s insurer tried to argue that the injured worker’s medical evidence failed to prove a connection between his walking on the job and his CTS. The insurer also said the hearing officer was wrong in considering the effect of the injured worker’s handicap on his walking at work. The insurer developed the unique argument of comparing the amount of walking the injured worker did on the job, with the amount of walking done by the general public. The work comp lawyers, however, introduced evidence of specific changes to the worker’s health when his job duties were changed.

The injured worker testified, under questioning from his work comp lawyers, that he was 56 years of age; and contracted poliomyelitis as a child. Medical records obtained by the work comp lawyers showed he had a subsequent fusion of seventeen spinal vertebrae. This surgery affected his gait, making him swing his left leg and foot in an arc to walk. Because of injuries from falling when his leg would give way, he began using a left-side crutch. He went to work with the storage unit employer, as a relief manager. Evidence introduced by the injured worker’s lawyer showed that at first, he didn’t have to do much walking. He used a golf cart to check most of the storage units. Helpful coworkers tended to leave him more of the sedentary office work. However, he was reassigned to work several large, enclosed facilities where golf carts couldn’t be used. The amount of walking he had to do each week increased “more than threefold.”

As the worker put it, he was doing as much walking in a day as he had “in a week” at the smaller facilities, and that “the whole day became a physical ordeal.”

The injured worker said that he soon developed a significant increase in the pain in his left hand from using the crutch. This testimony, the work comp lawyers later showed, it was not disputed. In the medical report produced by the injured work comp lawyers, Dr. O described the additional walking demands of the injured worker’s job. This included an increased use of the crutch. The doctor told the attorney that “[b]y using the left crutch, he has to put more pressure on the palmar aspect of the left hand causing carpal tunnel type syndromes and left elbow pain.”

The insurer even claimed the Texas Board of Workers Compensation Appeals had “often recognized that walking injuries sustained at work are generally considered to be ordinary diseases of life, not [workplace] injuries.” But to accept this, the work comp lawyers noted, would be to ignore that the injured worker proved his CTS was specifically caused by his work. Besides, the lawyer also pointed out that the insurer could not show any such real legal rule about “walking” at work versus the general public. There simply was no such rule about walking. The Board agreed, and added “nor are we aware of any such authority.” Given the injured worker’s unrefuted testimony and the opinion of Dr. O, the Board upheld the worker’s award.

Because an employer’s insurer may not have a sound legal theory, but simply want to delay an award, an injured worker should immediately seek the advice of a work comp lawyer.