Safety and OSHA News

Was carpal tunnel caused by driving truck, extreme obesity or both?

A former truck driver was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. Should he receive workers’ comp benefits? The question comes down to what caused his carpal tunnel: work or weighing 500 pounds? 

Cline Waugh worked for Maxum Petroleum Operating Co. as an over-the-road truck driver. His job duties included inspecting and loading equipment, using both hands to open valves, pushing and pulling hoses, and completing paperwork.

Waugh stopped working in July 2008 because of a knee injury. The first time he sought treatment for hand and arm pain was July 2009, a year after he stopped working as a truck driver.

A claims administrator initially found Waugh’s claim for occupational carpal tunnel syndrome was compensable. Maxum appealed.

Over the course of two years, four doctors performed independent medical evaluations of Waugh:

  • September 2013: The first doctor said it would have been virtually impossible for Waugh to have developed carpal tunnel due to his work. The doctor said Waugh’s “morbid obesity” contributed to his hand/arm pain.
  • October 2014: The second doctor assessed an 11% impairment for each arm due to carpal tunnel syndrome, with 2% non-occupational and 9% occupational factors.
  • July 2015: The third doctor said the carpal tunnel wasn’t work-related because Waugh hadn’t been working for one year when he first sought treatment.
  • August 2015: A fourth doctor diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome attributable to Waugh’s “long-standing morbid obesity.” She apportioned the entire 12% impairment rating to non-occupational risk factors.

The West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Office of Judges found Waugh’s “significant obesity” couldn’t be ignored, noting he weighed in at over 500 pounds at one time. It also found it was significant Waugh didn’t seek treatment for symptoms until about a year after he stopped working. The Office of Judges concluded no permanent partial disability due to carpal tunnel syndrome could be attributed to Waugh’s job.

The state Board of Review reversed the order from the Office of Judges, finding it had made an error in law.

But most recently, the state Supreme Court of Appeals said the Board of Review was incorrect and the Office of Judges’ order should be reinstated. It noted the fourth doctor was the only one to assess Waugh according to American Medical Association guidelines and the West Virginia Code of State Rules. She determined the non-occupational factors outweighed the occupational factors, and apportioned the entire carpal tunnel impairment to non-work factors.

Waugh won’t receive workers’ comp benefits for his carpal tunnel syndrome.

(Maxum Petroleum Operating Co. v. Cline Waugh, Supreme Court of Appeals of WV, No. 16-0741, 7/6/17)

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