Can an employee collect workers’ compensation benefits for an infection in his hand if doctors can’t agree on what caused the injury that led to the infection?
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania found that an employee and his doctor established that the infection from the work-related injury – a slight abrasion on his right hand from a ground level fall – was compensable.
He didn’t report abrasion on right hand from trip, fall incident
Demetrius Brown was a plumber for IT Landes, who subcontracted him to a project under employers Tradesmen International, Broadspire and IMC Construction.
On Feb. 15, 2020, Brown tripped and fell when walking up some steps at a job site, injuring his right hand. Brown continued to work and didn’t report the incident because he didn’t think he’d suffered a major injury.
By Feb. 21, 2020, Brown reported to the emergency room because his right hand was swollen. He developed an infectious tenosynovitis in the tendons of his fourth and fifth fingers because of the abrasion he suffered when he fell.
Infection leads to surgery, comp claim
Surgery was performed on Brown’s right hand to drain fluid that had accumulated in the tendons due to the infection.
Following the surgery, Brown reported the injury to his foreman with the companies acting as his employer learning of the incident on March 3, 2020.
Brown submitted a workers’ compensation claim on April 23, 2020, seeking full disability benefits from Feb. 21, 2020, and ongoing.
A workers’ compensation judge granted Brown’s claim in part, ordering the employer to pay temporary total disability benefits from Feb. 21, 2020, until June 26, 2020, which was the date the judge found Brown had fully recovered from his work-related injury. The state Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed the judge’s decision.
Employer: Evidence doesn’t support injury, infection relationship
The employer filed an appeal arguing that Brown’s medical evidence failed to support a finding that his work-related injury caused his disability.
Because Brown’s disability didn’t occur at the time of the incident, the causal relationship between the work-related injury and the disability weren’t obvious, according to the employer.
Brown’s doctor testified that “Brown contracted the infection when his hand scraped the cement steps” and that this abrasion was “sufficient to break the skin and lead to the infection.” This testimony wasn’t equivocal and it didn’t assume a causal relationship based solely on the timing of the incident. The workers’ compensation judge found this doctor’s testimony “credible and convincing, based upon his experience.”
Expert argues deep puncture wound required to cause infection
The employer’s medical expert testified that a deep puncture wound would’ve been required to cause the infection.
Since Brown didn’t suffer that sort of wound but still developed an infection, as supported by the medical evidence, the judge didn’t credit this portion of the medical expert’s testimony.
Court: Judge carefully considered testimony, didn’t err in decision
According to the court, “The (judge) carefully considered and weighed the expert medical testimony on causation, and we conclude the Board did not err when it affirmed the (judge) in this regard.”
This led the court to affirm the decision and allow Brown to collect workers’ compensation benefits.