Transit Worker's Job Activities Fuel Claim for Repetitive Stress Benefits

                               

New York, NY (WorkersCompensation.com)–A compensable injury is one that can be connected to the specific activities a worker performs as part of his job. 

As a case involving a supervisor for a transit authority demonstrates, repetitive stress injuries generally are considered an occupational disease if the worker engages in activities that could cause such injuries, and if the medical evidence establishes that the job activities and injuries are in fact connected. In 

Brancato v. New York City Transit Auth., No. 533429 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. App. Div. 06/23/22) the transit authority challenged the worker’s compensation board’s determination that the supervisor incurred an occupational disease to both hands and both thumbs. The supervisor claimed that the condition started on the job in 1999, but the pain in his wrists, hands, and thumbs had become severe as of 2017. His doctor diagnosed him with repetitive stress injuries including hand and joint derangement with traumatic tendonitis, arthritis, and nerve neuropathy. 

In affirming that decision, the appeals court pointed out that, throughout his 25-year career, the supervisor engaged in activities at work that could cause and exacerbate his injuries. The court noted that when the supervisor worked as a mechanic at the start of his career with the transit authority, he frequently used hand tools and impact guns, replaced tires, and operated a heavy-duty tow truck to transport buses and large trucks, averaging 60 to 70 hours per week. As a supervisor, the worker spent time instructing mechanics performing maintenance. However, the court remarked, he spent about 40 percent of his time at a desk using a computer to complete forms and reports. 

An occupational disease, the court explained, is a disease that results from the nature of the employment and that is contracted at work. To establish an occupational disease, a claimant must demonstrate a recognizable link between his or her condition and a distinctive feature of his or her employment. However, the court noted, there is no requirement that the injury be one that is commonly associated with the job. 

Given the history of the supervisor’s job activities, and the supervisor’s doctor’s input, the court reasoned, there was little doubt the job and injury were connected. Further, the transit authority offered no medical evidence to refute the doctor’s testimony, the court stated.  

The court pointed out that the doctor testified that the supervisor’s diagnoses were causally related to the nature of his job duties, including the use of both hands to operate power tools as a mechanic. The doctor further concluded that the supervisory work, while primarily sedentary, involved typing and writing, which further stressed the employee’s hands, wrists, and thumbs, and accelerated his injuries. The result, according to the doctor, was limited range of motion, altered sensation, weakness, and atrophy. 

“In light of the foregoing, and given that no contrary medical opinions were presented, the Board's factual determination that claimant suffered from an occupational disease resulting from repetitive stress is supported by substantial evidence,” the court wrote. 

The court therefore affirmed the board’s decision. 

 


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