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Workers’ Compensation — Occupational Disease – Findings of Fact – Competent Evidence – Hand Injuries

Seamon v. Ingersoll Rand (Lawyers Weekly No. 15-07-0022, 29 pp.) (Rick Elmore, J.) Appealed from the Industrial Commission. N.C. App.

Holding: Where there was competent evidence that plaintiff suffered from a bilateral peripheral vascular disorder condition, that such a condition was not an ordinary disease of life to which the general public was equally exposed, and that plaintiff’s duties as a machinist caused or significantly contributed to the development of this condition, there was competent evidence to support the Industrial Commission’s that finding that plaintiff suffered a compensable work-related injury under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

We affirm the Commission’s conclusions that plaintiff suffered a compensable work-related injury but that he was not completely disabled after Nov. 16, 2011.

To bring a successful occupational disease claim, a claimant must show that his condition was (1) characteristic of persons engaged in the particular trade or occupation in which the claimant is engaged, (2) not an ordinary disease of life to which the public generally is equally exposed with those engaged in that particular trade or occupation, and (3) there must be a causal connection between the disease and the claimant’s employment. Rutledge v. Tultex Corp./Kings Yarn, 308 N.C. 85 (1983).

As to whether plaintiff’s employment exposed him to a greater risk of suffering from the disorder than the public generally, his expert witness opined that plaintiff’s job as a machinist, using tools such as a rubber mallet and low vibration grinding tools, placed plaintiff at an increased risk for the development of his bilateral peripheral vascular disorder. Another expert witness testified that plaintiff’s job duties placed him at an increased risk of developing his medical condition as compared to members of the general public not so employed and that his condition is not an ordinary disease of life to which the public is equally exposed. Based on these findings, which are supported by competent evidence, we hold that plaintiff satisfied the first two elements of Rutledge.

As to whether plaintiff’s employment significantly contributed to, or was a significant causal factor in the condition’s development, an expert witness opined to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that plaintiff’s history of using his hands while at work to dislodge the parts from the assembled units caused his condition. Plaintiff established the requisite causal connection between the disease and his employment, thus satisfying the third element of Rutledge.

The Commission did not err in concluding that plaintiff sustained a compensable occupational disease.

Affirmed.


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