Little Rock, AR (WorkersCompensation.com) – Can a virus cause a heart condition? And can it be said to be a specific incident identifiable by time and place of occurrence.
It’s possible, and as the employee showed in Johnson v. Peco Foods Inc., No. CV-21-481 (Ark. Ct. App. 04/27/22), an unsanitary poultry processing facility might make the case stronger.
The laborer was informed during his orientation that most employees “would come down with a virus” due to working in a poultry-processing environment but that the virus “would pass in a week.”
While working in the live hang department, the laborer alleged that there were chicken feces “all over the floor and all over the workers” and that he would frequently be “flogged” by the chickens with their wings, pecked with their beaks, and scratched with their spurs.
The laborer’s safety equipment consisted of a beard net, set of gloves, and safety glasses.
Nonetheless, the laborer reported that “the pee, the poop … just … soaked in through the sores” and cuts and scratches he had on his arms from the chickens.
The laborer began to develop rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and hot-and-cold temperature swings. As his symptoms became worse, the laborer was allowed to move to a different department, while also splitting time with the live hang department. He continued experiencing symptoms but did not go to the emergency room or another doctor because his supervisor told him that he would be fired on the spot if he did so.
Two months after the laborer started the job, he was found unresponsive and cyanotic. He was rushed to the hospital, admitted to intensive care, and treated for cardiopulmonary arrest and acute hypoxemic respiratory failure.
The laborer filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, and an administrative law judge found that the laborer was infected with a virus on the job. The company appealed, and the commission found in its favor, determining that the laborer didn’t prove that experienced an injury caused by a specific incident, identifiable by time and place of occurrence, during the scope of his employment.
The laborer appealed to court.
In Arkansas, and injury is only accidental for workers’ compensation purposes if it is caused by a specific incident and is identifiable by time and place of occurrence.
According to the court, the commission erred in its translation of the company’s doctor’s opinion.
Whereas the doctor reported that he was unaware of a virus that would have caused the laborer’s cardiac illness, the commission made a factual finding that it was impossible for the laborer’s cardiac illness to have been caused by a poultry-related virus.
The court determined that this misunderstanding necessitated that the case be sent back for reexamination.
“Because the commission erroneously translated the medical evidence concerning the cause of the laborer’s illness, we must reverse and remand,” the court explained.