Does the amputation of two fingers and part of a third equal the total loss of the use of a hand? The answer to that question determined what workers’ comp benefits this employee would receive.
On March 19, 2012, Broc Root suffered a work injury when his left hand was caught in a machine while working at RS Resources Inc. in Ohio.
Most of his middle and ring fingers were amputated, as well as the fingernail section of his little finger. For workers’ comp purposes, it was considered that he lost two fingers and part of a third. His left index finger, thumb and wrist weren’t affected.
Two months after the injuries, Root filed a workers’ comp claim for total loss of use of his left hand.
A district hearing officer of the Ohio Industrial Commission granted the request. Root’s employer appealed.
A staff hearing officer reversed the decision. The officer’s decision stated:
“The injured worker has presented insufficient evidence to substantiate a total loss of use of the left hand … the injured worker was paid total amputation awards for the left middle and ring fingers … worker has presented no medical evidence which equates these losses to a total loss of the hand.”
Root based his claim for total loss of use of his left hand on part of Ohio’s workers’ comp law. The law says, if the employee lost two or more fingers, and the loss of fingers creates a disability which “exceeds the usual disability because of the nature of employment,” then an administrator may take that into consideration and increase the comp benefits to those for loss of use of the whole hand.
After the decision was overturned, Root took his case to a state appeals court. Root claimed that, under the circumstances, he wouldn’t be able to return to his job.
Root’s case satisfied the first part of what was required: He lost two fingers.
However, that in and of itself doesn’t guarantee comp benefits will be increased.
Two doctors examined Root. They both made similar findings, which included that Root:
- was right-hand dominant
- had full and complete range of motion and strength in his left thumb and index finger
- had normal movement of his left wrist
- had partial sensory loss on the partially amputated finger, and
- hadn’t reached maximum medical improvement when he requested benefits for full loss of use of the hand.
Both doctors came to the same conclusion: His request was, at least, premature. The doctors said Root would benefit from therapy to maximize the use of his left hand.
The appeals court noted that the burden in this sort of case is on the injured employee.
The court found that there was neither medical nor vocational evidence entered into the record that would enable Root to prove that.
As a result, the court upheld the finding that there was no proof at this time that Root had completely lost the use of his left hand. His workers’ comp benefits weren’t increased.
(Broc Root v. RS Resources Inc., Court of Appeals of Ohio Tenth Appellate Dist., No. 15AP-1124, 2/14/17)