When people think of a workplace injury that merits workers compensation, what usually comes to mind is something like a mining accident or a construction site mishap, where the person has suffered a significant physical injury. That person then receives workers compensation payments, even if the worker was at fault, until he or she has healed enough to return to work. However, it turns out that workers compensation can also be received for seemingly minor injuries, such as carpal tunnel. Recently, the West Virginia Supreme Court found in favor of a speech pathologist who sought workers compensation after suffering from carpal tunnel on the job.
Donna Adkins-Woods claimed that she developed carpal tunnel after continuously performing the typing and hand writing requirements of her job. She then filed for workers compensation in 2010, but the claims administrator rejected her claim. She then appealed to the Office of Judges, which reversed the claims administrator’s decision nine months later. This decision was then reversed by the Board of Review in April 2011. The reason given was that Adkins-Woods’s occupation was not in one of the categories considered to be at high risk for developing carpal tunnel. In making its decision, the Board of Review relied solely on the claims administrator’s finding that being a speech pathologist did not place Adkins-Woods at a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel, as opposed to looking at available medical evidence.
Yet Adkins-Woods had a physician’s diagnosis that she had a repetitive strain injury and suffered from carpal tunnel as a result of repetitive hand use while performing her job. An EMG revealed that Adkins-Woods had median nerve neuropathy in both wrists. Because the physician’s report and the EMG were the only medical reports on record, the West Virginia Supreme Court sided with the Office of Judges, which found that there was a slight “preponderance of the evidence” that Adkins-Woods had developed carpal tunnel as a result of her occupation. Adkins-Woods is therefore eligible to receive workers compensation benefits.
This is significant because, had she lost, she would not have been eligible to sue her employer for “damages,” or a money award, for her pain, medical bills, and lost wages. By law, if an employer has workers compensation insurance, an employee does not have the option to sue that employer in a state or federal court for injuries sustained on the job. That may seem unfair, but on the positive side, it means that the employee can still receive money even if the employee was at fault for the accident — unless (as noted above) the claim is refused.
That is why people injured on the job usually do not hire West Virginia personal injury attorneys to sue their employers. However, if you were injured on the job and your claim was denied, you can hire an experienced attorney to represent you in your appeals. Also, you have the option of going to court and suing a third-party involved in the accident, such as an equipment manufacturer, an on-sight vendor, or someone offering other services.