Was an electrician who was injured by an electrical shock to his hand entitled to additional workers’ compensation benefits for a spine injury he claimed was caused by the same incident?
The West Virginia Supreme Court upheld a decision by the state’s Office of Judges that the electrician could get benefits for the spinal injury because there was sufficient medical evidence to support the claim.
Spine problems presented one day after initial treatment
Roger Muncy Jr. was an electrician for the Coronado Coal Corporation. He injured his right hand and fingers on July 15, 2020 when he received an electrical shock while performing his job duties.
Immediately following the incident, Muncy was treated at a local medical center where he reported tingling in his right hand to the elbow, involuntary left cheek movement and pain in his right ring, middle and index fingers. He had full range of motion in his neck and back.
The next day, Muncy went to a different medical facility for further treatment. A physical examination showed cervical muscle spasms along with pain and other issues with his spine. He was diagnosed with muscles spasm and peripheral neuropathy from the electrical shock.
A follow-up appointment four days later showed lumbar spine tenderness and a decreased range of motion. The diagnoses after this appointment were neck strain, thoracic strain, peripheral neuropathy and muscle spasm.
Muncy’s workers’ compensation claim was held compensable for right hand electrical shock on July 23, 2020. However, the addition of cervical and thoracic sprains to Muncy’s claim was later denied.
Independent exam found no evidence of spine injuries
In August 2020, a physician review of Muncy’s medical records was conducted. The doctor who performed the review found that the records didn’t support a claim of cervical or thoracic spine injuries. That was because prior treatment notes were inconsistent with no initial report of cervical or thoracic spine issues. However, a physical examination revealed many of the same diagnoses that were previously identified.
Muncy underwent a cervical MRI later that same month, which revealed multilevel degenerative changes and some other spine-related issues. He continued to have problems and sought treatment for neuropathy, muscle spasms and numbness form his neck down his right arm. Muncy told the doctor that when he was shocked he hit his head on the ceiling of the work area before falling backward into some toolboxes. This resulted in a diagnosis of lower extremity numbness, weakness and occipital neuralgia resulting from the electrical shock.
In January 2021, an independent medical examination noted that Muncy had returned to work with no restrictions and required no further treatment. The examiner determined that Muncy didn’t suffer injuries to his cervical or thoracic spine, although he didn’t examine Muncy’s spine.
Reversed: Evidence supported additional claim
The West Virginia Office of Judges reversed the claim administrator’s decision to deny the addition of spine-related issues to Muncy’s claim. It found that the medical records from the second medical facility documented Muncy’s spinal issues, which it said were caused by the work-related injury.
The Office of Judges noted that the doctors who failed to diagnose Muncy’s spinal problems didn’t include his spine in their examinations. In short, Muncy sustained his burden of proof establishing that he developed problems with his spine as the result of a compensable injury.
West Virginia’s Board of Review affirmed the decision on Nov. 18, 2021, leading to an appeal by Muncy’s employer.
Court: ‘Symptoms were well-documented’
On review, the state Supreme Court agreed with the reasoning of the Office of Judges. The court ruled that Muncy met his burden of proof showing that he sustained cervical and thoracic sprains to his spine because of his workplace injury.
Muncy’s spine symptoms were well-documented in his medical records following the work injury, meaning the Office of Judges made no error in its decision granting Muncy additional benefits.