Two recent New York workers’ compensation cases illustrate what courts look at to differentiate legitimate repetitive stress injuries from those that fall short of qualifying for benefits.
Repetitive stress injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, can be difficult for courts to sort out since they occur over a long period of time and from specific types of tasks that aren’t always easy to pinpoint.
2 repetitive stress injury cases …
Matter of Sanchez v. New York City Transit Authority and Matter of Brancato v. New York City Transit Authority both involve employees who claim to have suffered from repetitive stress injuries connected to their employment.
In Sanchez, the employee was a station agent for 29 years who regularly unloaded coins from train station turnstiles, resulting in her having to carry 25- to 30-pound bags of coins and tokens as part of her job duties. She claimed that this caused her to develop repetitive stress injuries to her neck, back, left shoulder, left hip and left hand.
Brancato involved a bus mechanic with 25 years of experience who was promoted to a supervisor. His job duties as a mechanic required “using hand tools and impact guns, replacing tires and operating a heavy-duty tow truck to transport buses and large trucks, averaging 60 to 70 hours per week.” This, he claimed, led to severe pain in his wrists, hands and thumbs, which was aggravated by typing and other desk work when he became a supervisor.
Doctors testified for both of these employees in the separate cases, with each attempting to explain why their patient’s job duties led to these repetitive stress injuries.
… with completely different outcomes
The big difference between the two?
Sanchez resulted in an appeals court upholding a lower court decision finding that the employee and her doctor failed to provide adequate evidence tying her injuries to her employment. Yes, they gave details regarding the job and its duties, but the information provided wasn’t detailed enough and the doctor failed to show how lifting the bags of change over a period of years could result in the types of injuries the employee sustained.
In upholding the denial of the claim, the court said, “Neither claimant’s testimony nor the medical records contain any information as to the frequency or repetitiveness with which claimant lifted any heavy bags within the station booth.”
For the Brancato case, the employee and his doctor provided all the details about the job duties along with medical evidence and testimony revealing how the diagnosis was “causally related to the nature of his job duties, including the use of both hands to operate power tools as a mechanic, and the period in which he experienced the onset of symptoms, providing a rational basis for his conclusions.”
The court upheld approval of the claim because the lower court’s decision was based on a “factual determination that claimant suffered from an occupational disease resulting from repetitive stress (which) is supported by substantial evidence and will not be disturbed.”