Can an animal shelter employee who injured her arm and wrist while using a toy to distract a cat get workers’ compensation for her injury?
The Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit of Louisiana found that the worker was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits but only up to the date that her condition improved.
Injury occurred while trying to distract cat for photo
Amy Salter worked for Jean Simpson Personnel Services at the DeSoto Parish Animal Shelter. One of her job duties involved helping to take photos of animals for the shelter’s Facebook page.
On May 22, 2019, Salter was shaking a toy to get one of the cats to look at the camera when her right hand began to hurt and then locked in position.
Comp claim contested by employer
Salter filed a statement of workers’ compensation form regarding the incident on June 13, 2019. About one year later, she filed a disputed claim requesting:
- wage benefits that hadn’t been paid
- medical treatment that hadn’t been authorized
- correction of her workers’ compensation rate
- reimbursement for mileage, prescription medications and medical bills
- compensation for temporary total disability or permanent partial disability, and
- penalties, interest and attorney fees.
Jean Simpson denied that Salter:
- suffered an injury
- was disabled for any reason related to her employment
- was permanently disabled
- suffered an injury resulting in a loss of earning capacity, and
- was entitled to rehabilitation services.
Medical records reveal possible pre-existing condition
A trial was held Aug. 17, 2021, with a workers’ compensation judge. A summary of Salter’s medical history was submitted as evidence.
Salter’s medical records revealed that she’d been seen by a doctor in 2017 for pain in her knees, back and arms. She’d seen a doctor in May 2019 for pain in her arm and wrist following the work incident, but the doctor noted that there was no injury. A different doctor Salter saw a few days later noted some swelling and ordered an X-ray.
The initial X-rays showed nothing remarkable, but Salter continued to suffer pain in her right wrist and arm. Further treatment required more X-rays and medication, but Salter’s workers’ compensation claim was in limbo and those treatments were refused.
Salter testified that she’d seen the doctor in 2017 mainly for pain in her knees and back, which she had checked to see if it was arthritis. She admitted that the cat toy she had been shaking was lightweight. However, when her wrist locked in place during the injury, she claimed there was swelling and pain.
Salter’s husband testified that the injury caused his wife’s wrist to swell and caused her pain. Witnesses for Jean Simpson from the animal shelter testified that Salter had been in pain and couldn’t move her wrist. They also said they didn’t notice any swelling at the time of the incident.
Judge awards benefits, penalties, attorney fees
On Feb. 7, 2022, the judge ruled in favor of Salter because Jean Simpson presented no evidence showing that doctors would have changed their opinions on Salter’s condition even if they’d been presented with her additional medical history. Further, Salter met her burden proving her injury was work-related, according to the judge.
Salter was granted workers’ compensation benefits from May 31, 2019, without a specified end date along with medical treatment. The judge also awarded $8,000 in penalties for Jean Simpson’s failure to authorize treatment, pay medical expenses and pay indemnity benefits. Another $20,000 was awarded for attorney fees.
Work-related injury determination an error?
Jean Simpson filed an appeal, claiming that the judge erred in finding that Salter met her burden in proving the occurrence of a compensable accident and that her medical issues were caused by an on-the-job injury.
Salter argued that her work-related accident complied with the statutory definition of accident and that the judge correctly found that she suffered a work-related injury.
Judge’s determination reasonable, but penalty was an error
The appeals court found that, based on the evidence, the judge was reasonable in determining that a workplace accident occurred resulting in Salter’s injury.
There was no dispute that Salter was bouncing the cat toy as part of her job duties. It was up to the judge to determine if that duty led to an injury. Salter’s testimony regarding the accident itself was corroborated by her husband and her co-workers. Her medical records showed that she went to a doctor with pain and swelling and then sought a second opinion when that doctor couldn’t find a problem.
However, the appeals court determined that the judge erred in awarding benefits beyond Oct. 28, 2019, when Salter no longer had pain in her wrist and was discharged from care. Also, because of the nature of Salter’s injury and discharge from medical care, the court felt that Jean Simpson didn’t act unreasonably in disputing the claim. This led the court to reverse the award of penalties and attorney fees.