Safety and OSHA News

Butcher couldn’t feel cold in fingers: Does he get comp for frostbite, infections?

In the middle of winter, it might seem like a benefit if you couldn’t feel cold in your extremities. However, that lack of sensation can lead to workplace injuries – and they may not qualify for workers’ comp. 

Kevin Terry worked as a meat cutter at a Harris Teeter supermarket in North Carolina. He suffers from Guillain-Barre syndrome which prevents him from sensing cold in his extremities. He had the condition before he became a meat cutter.

Terry started working as a meat cutter in 2013. In 2015 he filed for workers’ comp for injuries to his fingers, including frostbite and severe infections. Terry said his injuries were caused by his work handling frozen items as a meat cutter.

A deputy of the North Carolina Industrial Commission denied Terry’s request, and that decision was upheld on appeal by the entire Commission.

The Commission concluded:

“[Terry’s] exposure to cold, in and of itself, would not have caused his finger problems; rather [Terry’s] peculiar susceptibility occasioned by his pre-existing [Guillain-Barre syndrome] was a requisite and overwhelming factor in his development of those problems, rendering these claims not compensable.”

Terry appealed to a state court.

Are meat cutters more susceptible?

A doctor who treated Terry testified that it was possible another meat cutter without Guillain-Barre could develop the same problems as Terry, but it was less likely. “But for that Guillain-Barre it was more likely than not that Mr. Terry would not have developed this condition,” the doctor testified.

On appeal, Terry pointed to some contradictory evidence that meat cutters at a supermarket are more susceptible to injuries from exposure to the cold than the public would be generally.

But the appeals court cited a previous decision in a case involving contact with chemicals. In Hayes v. Tractor Supply Co., the appeals court had ruled “an individual’s personal sensitivity to chemicals does not result in an occupational disease compensable under our workers’ compensation scheme.” Similar to Terry’s situation, the employee’s chemical sensitivity predated her workers’ comp claim.

In Terry’s case, the court concluded:

“Here, as in Hayes, the record supports the Commission’s finding that the employee had a particular, personal susceptibility to the disease or injury and that this personal susceptibility predated the start of employment … the Commission properly concluded that Terry’s injuries were not the result of an occupational disease.”

The court affirmed the Commission’s finding. Terry won’t get workers’ comp for his injuries.

(Kevin Terry v. Harris Teeter Supermarkets Inc., Court of Appeals of NC, No. COA17-491, 1/2/18)

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Comments

  1. This article reminds me of another article that was posted here a few years ago where a person with pre-existing respiratory illnesses took a job on the side of a volcano. That person had to walk hundreds of stairs per day and breathe volcanic fog (Vog) which he clearly wasn’t capable of doing. The person got their WC. I commented at the time along the lines that people with bee allergies shouldn’t be beekeepers, and people with severe pollen allergies would have a hard time working in the plants that I work in. Why would a person with a syndrome, or illness, that cannot feel his fingers work as a butcher? That’s just an injury waiting to happen.

  2. As a person that developed Reynaud’s Syndrome in my teenage years (I’m in my 50’s now); does that mean that as an Occupational Safety and Health Consultant that I can’t work in the winter (and sometimes Spring, Fall and Summer), depending upon the weather and the environment of the risk that I am visiting? (I often do not know what the environment is and whether it will trigger my Reynaud’s until it happens. Yes, I ALWAYS have gloves and a coat with pockets with me- but that does not stop this from occurring. I have a family to support. Are you suggesting that I am disabled?

    • Occupational Safety and Health Consultant and butcher are occupations that are not remotely the same. I stand by my opinion that some medical conditions cause people to be more susceptible to certain injuries. In this particular case the court appeared to agree with that. As far as your last question, I have no idea anything about you so, no I am not suggesting that you are disabled.

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