The law says there must be a causal connection between an injury and work for an employee to receive workers’ comp benefits. In this case, an employee’s injury manifested itself at work. Is that enough for him to receive WC benefits?
Kyle Kinsey worked as a welder for Apex Bolt & Machine Co. in Ohio.
One day at work, Kinsey felt gradually increasing pain and stiffness in his right wrist. That night at a hospital ER, a doctor diagnosed a wrist strain with a possible fracture in the carpal area. The doctor immobilized the wrist and prescribed medication for pain and swelling and wrote on a workers’ comp form that the injury was likely work-related.
Two days later, Kinsey saw an orthopedic specialist, Dr. Kalb, who suspected a fracture and carpal tunnel syndrome due to swelling.
A few days later, Kinsey returned to Kalb with extreme pain, swelling and nausea. The doctor noted redness and swelling due to abscesses within the wrist. Kalb admitted Kinsey to the hospital.
MRIs and x-rays didn’t show a fracture. Tests revealed pockets of infection in the wrist. The abscesses were drained and cleaned. Kinsey was prescribed antibiotics and physical therapy.
More than five years later, Kinsey says he’s has yet to regain the full use of his hand.
He applied for workers’ comp benefits for carpal tunnel syndrome and the wrist infection.
Caused by work, or just at work?
Initially, Kinsey received workers’ comp benefits. However, Apex appealed.
A hearing officer denied benefits for the carpal tunnel syndrome and infection but allowed it for wrist strain.
A second appeal resulted in benefits being restored for all the conditions.
Eventually, Apex sought summary judgment against Kinsey from an Ohio appeals court, arguing that his workers’ comp claim should be thrown out without any further consideration. The company said Kinsey failed to prove his injuries were work-related.
Kinsey faced a problem proving that his injuries were work-related: In his own deposition testimony, he denied receiving a cut or abrasion to his wrist at work that would have led to the infection.
Another problem for Kinsey: Dr. Kalb testified that, despite an initial tentative diagnosis of a fracture, MRIs and x-rays failed to show one. Kalb said the location of the wrist pain frequently leads a doctor to suspect a fracture. However, in this and other cases, diagnosis eventually shows the pain is due to an infection.
A similar situation existed with the carpal tunnel syndrome, according to Kalb. The swelling that caused the CTS was brought on by the infection, not a fracture.
So while a tentative diagnosis would seem to point to a fracture that might have been caused at work, further investigation determined the problem was an infection for which Kinsey was unable to show a connection to the workplace.
“It is not enough that an illness or injury manifest itself at work,” the court wrote. “There must be a causal connection.”
For that reason, the appeals court ruled Kinsey would not receive workers’ comp benefits.
(Kinsey v. Apex Bolt & Machine Co., Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, No. L-12-1027, 2/22/13)