An employee suffers a cut at work. A MRSA infection develops in the wound. Should treatment of the MRSA infection be covered by workers’ comp?
Here’s what happened:
The employee cut his finger on a piece of sheet metal at work. Several days later, he developed an infection that doctors diagnosed as MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas, an antibiotic-resistant strain of staph infection.
A doctor for the employer said the worker probably had the MRSA organism on his skin and that didn’t cause a problem until he had the cut, which provided an entrance for the MRSA.
The doctor said it was extremely unlikely that the MRSA was present on the sheet metal.
Both the MRSA on the skin and the cut were needed to produce the infection, according to the doctor, and they were equally important in creating the infection.
The employer accepted the worker’s claim for the cut but denied coverage for the infection. The worker appealed.
An administrative law judge and the state comp board agreed with the worker. The company took the case to a state appeals court.
The company argued that the employee’s infection should not be covered by workers’ comp, because state law says, “no injury or disease is compensable as a consequence of a compensable injury unless the compensable injury is the major contributing cause of the consequential condition.”
The employer said since the MRSA was already on the worker’s skin, the cut suffered in the workplace didn’t cause the infection.
The court focused on this statement from the doctor: “The incident at work broke the protective barrier of skin. This allowed the MRSA which was present on the surface of the skin to enter the subcutaneous tissues.”
Therefore, the court said, it’s reasonable to state that the worker’s infection was a direct result of the incident at work.
Decision: The employee gets workers’ comp for the infection.
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Cite: All Seasons Heating & A/C, v. William Pepperling, Court of Appeals of OR, 9/1/10.
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