The Connecticut Supreme Court will hear an appeal that may set precedent on awarding and apportioning benefits to injured workers in the state. A former United Parcel Service (UPS) worker argued that he should receive full workers' compensation benefits for carpal tunnel syndrome even though it may have been a pre-existing condition unrelated to work.
The claimant was diagnosed with diabetes in 1987. He developed diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which impaired his use of his arms and legs in 1998. He kept working for UPS, however. While moving packages in 2003, he developed intense pain in his hands and arms. He was diagnosed with carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel conditions which were compensable through workers' compensation and received surgery.
He continued working until 2008 when the pain made him retire. In 2003, a physician attributed 10 percent of his impairment to his arms and hands to work-related injuries. Accordingly, UPS had to provide compensation for only 10 percent of each disability which was an impairment of over 40 percent for his arms and legs.
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in another case in 2008 that disability benefits may be apportioned where an employer can prove that two concurrently developing disease processes caused the disability. One disease process should be occupational and the other one has to be non-occupational.
The Compensation Review Board upheld the apportionment to this worker in a 2012 decision. The state Appellate Court reversed the Board in 2013. It found that the worker's neuropathy-caused impairment was a previous disability and was not developed with the carpal tunnel issues that were diagnosed later. Accordingly, there should be no apportionment of benefits and the 2008 Supreme Court decision did not apply to this appeal.
UPS appealed this decision. It has argued that the Court's 2008 decision applies even if a claimant is diagnosed with a non-occupational disease before the date of his work-injury claim. He may have two concurrent diseases that are progressive and developing concurrently.
The claimant argued that reversal, based upon the Review Board's decision, would compel litigation of partial disability ratings in virtually every case. The Court's earlier decision which apportioned benefits should not be extended in this case, according to the claimant.
Workers' compensation claims are subject to complex rules and cases in many cases. Workers should explore their legally-entitled benefits after suffering a workplace injury accident or a permanent disability.
Source: Connecticut Law Tribune, "Ex-UPS worker fights state's attempt to limit workers' comp benefits," Christian Nolan, Oct. 27, 2014