Potter v. McCulla: Repetitive Stress Injuries and Workers’ Compensation

Our Spartanburg workers’ compensation lawyers understand that a claim involving an employee who has changed jobs may require additional litigation.

dental-office-751830-m.jpgPotter v. McCulla, a case from the Nebraska Supreme Court, involved a plaintiff who began working as a dental hygienist in the early 1980s. She worked four days a week. Around 2007, she began experiencing neck pain that got worse throughout the workday. She believed it was caused by the angle at which she was required to lean while working.

When the neck pain did not go away, she saw a doctor who prescribed oral steroids for the pain and ordered that she have physical therapy, but did not restrict her work activities.

When the pain still did not go away, she told her employer that her doctor said her work activities were responsible for the pain. The employer filed a claim with the company workers’ compensation insurance carrier who paid on the claim. She had about a dozen more treatments for her neck, all during non-work hours. She never missed any work until the pain reached a level that required her to leave early to see the doctor.

Around this time, her employer left the practice and another dentist took over. The worker did not experience any change at work with the new employer. The workers’ compensation insurance company had the worker see a doctor selected by the company, who stated she did not have a work-related injury. Instead, the doctor said she suffered from a pre-existing degenerative disc condition that she only noticed more at work but was not related to her work. At this point, the company cut off all benefits.

The worker moved to a new city and started working at another dental office as a hygienist. She saw a new doctor who put her on a three-day-per-week work restriction. This doctor said that her work definitely contributed to her illness and made things worse, but it was not possible to opine to a medical certainty whether work was the original cause.

She filed for workers’ compensation and the workers’ compensation court found that she was suffering from a pre-existing condition that was agitated by her work and awarded her 40 percent disability benefits. Due to the fact that she was now working for a new employer with a new workers’ compensation insurance company, they appealed the finding and argued that the previous employer should be responsible for her benefits.

On appeal, the court looked at the determination of when a repetitive stress injury is determined to have occurred since, by its very nature, it is caused by long periods of repetitive stress. The court still considers a repetitive stress disorder as a sudden and violent injury. The reason for this is that, while the injury may take years to fully develop, the pain that makes it difficult to work is an event that happens suddenly.

The court found that the first time she was put on work restriction was the first time the injury triggered workers’ compensation benefits due her loss of wages. For this reason, the court affirmed the workers’ compensation court’s determination that her on-the-job injury occurred while working for the new employer.

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

Additional Resources:
Potter v. McCulla, August 1, 2014, Nebraska Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries

North Carolina Workers Injured on the Job Get Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, June 10, 2011, Spartanburg Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog

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