Workers’ Compensation for Carpal Tunnel Requires Clear Evidence

Workplace injuries don’t always occur suddenly or traumatically. Injuries can happen gradually, often with little notice paid by the worker in the months or years leading up to the realization that something is wrong.
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Still, the impact of these types of injuries is often no less debilitating, as the recent case of Evans v. Fidelity & Guar. Ins. Co. reveals.

Workers’ compensation attorneys in Concord recognize that in order to secure benefits for clients in these situations, it often takes more time and work on behalf of the claimant. It’s critical to establish that the origin of the injury – or its worsening condition – is the result of work duties.

In the Evans case, the condition alleged was carpal tunnel syndrome. This is a condition that causes numbness, tingling and other symptoms in the hands and arms. Typically, it’s the result of a pinched nerve in the wrist. While the condition can be caused by certain underlying health problems, it’s most often related to certain patterns of hand use, such as repetitive motion of the wrists, fingers and hands, such as while typing at a keyboard.

Given the increase over the last several decades of folks working long hours in front of a computer, we have seen a spike in these sorts of injuries.

Evans worked for a casket company for 35 years when he filed his complaint, which alleged a work injury involving his right thumb. He was 65, had a tenth-grade education and had no additional education or training.

He started having problems with his arms and hands in 2005. The condition worsened over the next four years, and in 2009, he was referred to a surgeon who specialized in procedures on hands. While the worker had shown signs of arthritis, the bigger issue was carpal tunnel syndrome. He thus performed carpal tunnel release surgery on both arms in June and August of that year.

A settlement for workers’ compensation on that claim was settled by the trial court in 2010.

However, shortly after the surgery, the employee reported his right thumb continued to bother him, and in fat, worsened. He was diagnosed with advanced triggering of the thumb, which occurs when a fluid-filled sack forms on the tendon as the result of inflammation. Steroid injections only helped temporarily.

Another surgery was performed in July 2010, and recovery was slower this time. By the fall, the worker was unable to bend or fully flex the thumb. This was blamed on scar tissue. Another surgery was performed.

The employee never regained full movement of his thumb, and was assigned a permanent impairment rating of 18 percent on his right thumb, amounting to an 8 percent impairment in his hand, 7 percent to the arm and 4 percent to the body as a whole. That rating was also based on diminished range of joint motion, though no formal restrictions were placed on the worker’s activities. Still, he would continue to experience pain each time he tried to grasp.

He continued to work, though he was unable to hold a screwdriver or a pencil.

The court thus awarded 10.5 percent permanent partial disability in his arm.

The worker later appealed on the technical grounds that under that state’s law, arm injury compensation is capped at a certain rate, while thumb injuries are not. The Tennessee Supreme court however affirmed the ruling of the lower court.

The claimant still walked away with workers’ compensation benefits, just not as much as he would have liked.

While carpal tunnel syndrome might seem like a relatively minor condition, it can be debilitating for someone who must rely on their hands to perform their day-to-day work. Consult with an experienced attorney if you have been diagnosed and suspect it may be related to your work.

If you have been injured at work in Concord, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Evans v. Fidelity & Guar. Ins. Co., April 16, 2014, Tennessee Suprem Court

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Parking Lot Injuries and Workers’ Compensation Claims, April 16, 2014, Concord Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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