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Did Shepherd’s Remote Work Site Make Appendicitis Compensable?

17 Aug, 2023 Chris Parker

sheep 4673941 640
                               

Sweethome, OR (WorkersCompensation.com) – It’s not often one hears of a sheep herder applying for workers’ compensation benefits. And one rarely hears of an employee collecting benefits because his appendicitis occurred on the job. But what happens when you combine the two?

Theoretically, a shepherd who works in a remote area might be able to collect benefits for complications from the condition if the complications were caused by the remoteness of the work site.

That was the situation in Elvin v. SAIF Corp., Nos. 2005820, A177556 (Or. Ct. App. 08/09/23), where it was an attack of appendicitis (and not the usual situation where the sheep, after plotting for weeks, attack the shepherd) that caused a sheep herder to leave his post.

While working in the mountains one day, the shepherd started experiencing abdominal pain. The next day, he notified his employer about the pain and was taken to a local clinic and then to a hospital approximately 90 miles away. At the hospital, he was diagnosed with complications from appendicitis.

The Workers' Compensation Board, affirming an order of an administrative law judge, upheld the company’s denial of the shepherd’s injury claim. It found that the injury was not compensable because it did not arise out of his employment.

On appeal, the court stated that, to be compensable, an injury must arise out of employment. That means that the workplace injury must be a material contributing cause of the condition or need for medical treatment.

Generally, an appendicitis attack that occurs on the job does not arise out of employment because there generally is no causal connection between the work and the attack. 

However, the shepherd could still have succeeded in his claim by linking his abdominal condition to the remote nature of his work. “[H]e asserts that the record shows that his geographically remote work environment increased the likelihood of his abdominal condition by delaying his access to treatment,” the court wrote.

In this case, however, there was no evidence that the shepherd’s abdominal condition was caused by his work activities or his work environment. In affirming the board’s decision, the court pointed to the following:

--> The shepherd acknowledged that no evidence linked his abdominal condition to his work activities.
--> The physician who performed the Independent Medical Evaluation testified that it is not uncommon for individuals to seek treatment approximately one day after symptoms began and that there is no specific risk factors associated with a ruptured appendix.
--> The physician testified that he could not determine when the worker’s appendicitis began, when his appendix ruptured, or whether his appendix would have ruptured if he had sought medical treatment sooner.

Thus, he could not establish that the remoteness of the work setting caused the rupture.

The shepherd did not submit any medical testimony that supported his position, nor did he explain how the existing evidence could lead to a decision in his favor.

Because the shepherd failed to link his condition to his job, his injury was not compensable, the court held.

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