Tampa, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Proving entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits from an occupational disease can be difficult. This difficulty has been shown recently by a police department worker in New York who was unable to do so.
Nielda Barker allegedly sustained injuries to her shoulder and arm. However, after the case was appealed, the appellate court affirmed the trial judge’s denial of workers’ compensation benefits based on occupational disease.
Barker was an evidence clerk. Her job duties consisted of physically handing evidence, scanning, and cataloging evidence that had been collected by other police officers. She also needed to regularly use a computer and transport evidence into storage.
She filed a claim arguing that due to repetitive trauma, she had injured her upper extremeties. Repetitive trauma can be thought of as multiple micro-accidents that over time cause harm to the injured worker.
The actual accident date can be complicated in repetitive trauma claims because the accident happens over a large period of time and is difficult to track. In some states, the date of accident is the last date of exposure to the alleged trauma. Repetitive trauma can carry with it a higher burden of proof then a singular traumatic accident.
New York’s standard for this type of claim is showing an “unusual environmental conditions or events assignable to something extraordinary.” This is a high standard of proof given the words unusual and extraordinary. In other words, the claimant has to show that they were doing something different than the average worker.
In denying the claim, the court noted the lack of medical testimony. Moreover, it did not appear that any of her medical providers had adequate knowledge of her work activities. The opinion can be summarized by saying that the claimant failed to present adequate evidence to meet her burden of proof.
This opinion illustrates the importance in repetitive trauma or occupational disease cases for the medical experts to have an understanding of the claimant’s work activities. The claimant’s expert would in theory state that the employment is the major contributing cause of the claimant’s injuries and need for treatment. But if the expert has no knowledge of the claimant’s job, that opinion is largely speculation.
The medical expert should have knowledge of things like the claimant’s hours, lifting requirements, time spent sitting or standing, quantity of breaks, whether protective gear is worn, access to light, ergonomics, and a description of the work activities.
The case also illustrates the importance of having the appropriate medical evidence to prove your case. In this case, it appears the claimant did not disclose facts about her work environment to her providers or to relevant experts.
The claim can also involve jurisdictional issues because physicians may say that an injured worker needs things like a stand-up desk or an ergonomic work space. However, this would be ordering the employer to provide specific equipment to workers which interferes with their fundamental rights of contract and property rights.