In many workers’ compensation cases, the illness or injury at issue is one that occurs over time or in some cases can occur naturally for some people, due to genetics or other factors. In these situations, no one doubts the severity of the condition, but proving causation between work-related duties and the injury/illness is central.
Such was the case in Seamon v. Rand and Travelers, recently reviewed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, following a decision favoring plaintiff by the North Carolina Industrial Commission.
At issue was a condition known as distal occlusive disease and thrombosis in one hand and aneurysms in both hands, resulting in blood clotting in his fingers. Clots had to be surgically removed from plaintiff’s hands, and several fingers were amputated.
Following these surgeries, plaintiff’s treating surgeon placed him on a work restriction, assigning a 30 percent disability rating to each hand. The restrictions barred lifting of more than 30 pounds and carrying of more than 20 pounds, as well as exposure to cold and vibrations. Further, two of plaintiff’s physicians attributed the condition with a “reasonable degree of medical certainty” to work-related use of his palms to dislodge certain pieces of machinery in his factory work. The doctors also purported plaintiff’s use of other vibrating tools likely exacerbated the situation. These physicians noted too it was not necessary for plaintiff to have put a lot of force on his hands; the greater problem was the repetitive motion.
It was after this finding plaintiff filed a claim alleging a work-related injury/disease to his upper extremities.
A machine specialist and a vascular surgeon for the company’s workers’ compensation insurer evaluated the situation.
The specialist performed an evaluation of the ergonomics of plaintiff’s job position and watched other machinists carrying out the same duties. He concluded there was not enough forceful exertion of the hands or fingers to increase the risk of plaintiff developing the vascular condition.
The surgeon, meanwhile, evaluated plaintiff’s medical records. Although he never personally examined plaintiff, he opined the injury was not work-related and he was at no greater risk than anyone else in the general public from developing the condition.
The state workers’ compensation full commission gave greater weight to plaintiff’s doctors’ findings and opinions than those of the insurance company’s. The commission awarded him full benefits for the seven months during which he was receiving surgery/treatments. Following that, it awarded him partial benefits, allowing that while he was still capable of some work within the outlined restrictions.
Plaintiff appealed only the portion of the judgement that did not find him permanently totally disabled. Defendant appealed the finding of work-related causation resulting in any benefits.
The appellate court affirmed.
Despite defendant arguing that a finding of compensable work-related disease was unsupported by any competent evidence, the court determined the commission did not err in giving greater weight to plaintiff’s physicians versus defendant’s physician/specialist. The latter never observed plaintiff working nor examined him personally. Further, the findings of plaintiff’s physicians were supported by the medical evidence.
Regarding plaintiff’s portion of appeal, the appellate court ruled plaintiff failed to make reasonable efforts to search for a new job within the restrictions placed. He professed a willingness to work, but as of the court’s review, did not provide evidence to show he’d made a solid effort to find it, even though market analysis suggested he should be able to find a position within those parameters.
Our experienced Charlotte workers’ compensation lawyers are prepared to help answer questions about your claim.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Seamon v. Rand and Travelers, Dec. 31, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals
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