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)