Pastor’s Shoulder Injury Stems from Coal Mining Days, Not Church Work

Frank Ferreri

Charleston, WV ( – Whether a church had to cover an employee’s injury required consideration of medical evidence and to what degree previously employment might have been to blame.

In Martin v. Matewan United Methodist, No. 20-0198 (W.Va. 05/20/21) a pastor’s preexisting shoulder condition from his time as a coal miner, not an incident where he was carrying things around church property, caused the injury at issue.

Shoulder Injury

Walking from the parsonage, where he lived, to the church to meet a contractor, the pastor experienced a right shoulder injury while carrying a bookbag and laptop. According to the pastor, his job duties required him to check with the contractor daily, so traveling between the parsonage and church was a work-related requirement.

The pastor had a prior shoulder injury, and when that injury occurred, doctors told him that he may have had a tear. Nonetheless, the pastor informed the court that he recovered from the prior injury at the time of the bookbag incident.

A doctor who examined the pastor noted that the pastor was 62 years old, previously worked as a coal miner, and developed a degenerative rotator cuff condition. This doctor opined that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the pastor experienced a work-related injury.

The West Virginia Office of Judges determined that the incident occurred as part of the pastor’s work because he was required to oversee the contractors working on the property. However, based on the medical evidence, the office didn’t find evidence of an acute, traumatic injury. Instead, it concluded that the pastor’s placing the bag in his truck did not result in a compensable injury.

The Board of Review upheld the decision. In response, the pastor appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Not from Employment

For an injury to be compensable in West Virginia, it must be received in the course of employment, and it must have resulted from that employment.

The court agreed with the lower rulings that the pastor’s preexisting shoulder issues were the cause of his injury. According to the court, the pastor did not experience an injury putting things into his truck while going between the parsonage and the church.

Thus, the Board of Review’s decision upholding the Office of Judge’s ruling in the church’s favor withstood the pastor’s challenge.

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