A worker fractured her nose. Workers’ comp paid for surgery which repaired the fracture and alleviated her pain. However, she argued for almost a year’s worth of additional benefits for disfigurement. Did a court award her more workers’ comp benefits? Rhonda Walker fell down stairs at work and broke her nose. After one round of nasal surgery, she was released to work without restrictions. On the day she returned to work, she gave one week’s notice. Her resignation letter didn’t say she was leaving because of her injury. It said she was moving.
Two months later she had nasal surgery for the second time.
Walker asked for her workers’ comp to be reinstated for two reasons: permanent disfigurement of her nose, and that she had also suffered neck, back and shoulder injuries.
Medical records from the first doctor to treat Walker didn’t mention any back or neck injuries. A workers’ comp judge denied the request for extra benefits for those injuries, saying Walker’s testimony wasn’t credible.
The matter about her nose proved to be a bit more complicated.
Pennsylvania’s workers’ comp law awards certain amounts for disfigurement. In the case of an injury to the head, neck or face, not every change is compensable. A scar or alteration of the head must also cause “an unsightly appearance,” according to the state’s law, to be eligible for workers’ comp.
The workers’ comp judge (WCJ) who first heard Walker’s case didn’t see an unsightly appearance — at first. The WCJ requested before and after photographs. Walker said she had two scars on her nose and the end of it was crooked following her fall.
Even though the WCJ couldn’t see any scars, based upon the photos, Walker was awarded 45 weeks of disfigurement benefits because her nose was “crooked.”
The company appealed. The Workers’ Comp Board (WCB) saw Walker in person and found that her nose had “a slight crookedness” to the left side and “the crookedness is not noticeably disfiguring” and therefore not compensable.
This time it was Walker who appealed the decision, seeking to get the WCJ’s original opinion reinstated.
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania upheld the WCB’s decision. It noted that in a previous ruling, the state’s Supreme Court had specifically cautioned against gauging unsightliness on the basis of photos because they can be manipulated.
The court’s decision: no disfigurement benefits for Walker. Her slightly crooked nose didn’t rise to the level of “an unsightly appearance.”
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments below.
(Walker v.Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, Commonwealth Court of PA, No. 492 C.D. 2011, 3/3/12)