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Did repetitive motion at work cause wrist injury?

Repetitive motion injuries can be tricky. How can you tell if this type of injury is caused by a degenerative condition, repetitive motion at work or maybe a combination of both? Should the injured employee receive workers’ comp benefits? 

Betty Jo Robinson worked at the deli at a Kroger supermarket in Louisville, KY, from September 2013 to October 2016. She initially worked part-time then worked six days a week for eight hours a day. Her duties included slicing meat, working in the bakery, cooking and frying chickens.

Robinson says on Oct. 1, 2016, she had been frying chicken when her right wrist became painful and swollen and her fingers were numb. Robinson often had to move pans containing up to six chickens.

A doctor diagnosed her with right wrist tendonitis and overuse syndrome. Robinson stopped working at Kroger.

She filed for workers’ comp benefits, and Kroger contested the claim. She had surgery on the arm, but the pain continued.

One doctor concluded it was more likely than not that her work activities accelerated an underlying dormant condition in Robinson’s wrist. The doctor said her work tasks were the type “that would be expected to, over time, cause [the] injury” that Robinson suffered.

However, another doctor didn’t believe Robinson’s injury was related to her work at Kroger. Instead, this doctor believed the injury was caused solely by a degenerative condition.

An administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing and, relying on the second doctor’s opinion, concluded that Robinson hadn’t met her burden of proving she had suffered a work-related cumulative trauma injury to her right wrist and hand. The Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed the ALJ’s ruling. Robinson appealed to a state court.

What did the 2 doctors consider?

Robinson argued the medical evidence showed her condition was dormant until her work at Kroger turned it into a disabling injury. She pointed to the first doctor’s opinion to back up her claim and that the second doctor never addressed the specific issue of whether her underlying dormant condition was aggravated by her work.

The state appeals court agreed with Robinson, noting the first doctor specifically concluded her dormant condition was aggravated by her work at Kroger – a situation that’s eligible for workers’ comp benefits. The court noted that the second doctor didn’t address that possibility.

The appeals court vacated the opinion of the Workers’ Compensation Board and remanded Robinson’s case for the Board to address whether her repetitive work aggravated her pre-existing, dormant condition.

(Betty Jo Robinson v. KrogerCommonwealth of Kentucky Court of Appeals, No. 2018-CA-000806-WC, 4/12/19)

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