Supreme Court: Woman deserves Workers' Comp for carpal tunnel

By Nathan Bass | Mar 14, 2013

CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a speech pathologist who alleges she suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of her job related typing and handwriting.

The vote in the memorandum decision, released March 6, was 3-2. Chief Justice Brent D. Benjamin was joined by Justice Robin Jean Davis in dissent, while justices Margaret L. Workman, Menis E. Ketchum and Allen H. Loughry made up the majority.

Claimant Donna M. Adkins-Woods filed a claim for Workers’ Compensation benefits for carpal tunnel syndrome, alleging she suffered the injury as a result of performing the typing and handwriting requirements of her job as a speech-language pathologist.

The claims administrator rejected the claim in February 2010 but the Office of Judges reversed the claims administrator’s decision in November 2010.

On April 12, 2011, the Board of Review reversed the Office of Judges’ order and reinstated the claims administrator’s decision based on a finding that Adkins-Woods’s occupation did not fall within one of the occupational categories found to be at high risk for the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.

According to the opinion, the Board of Review did not rely on any medical evidence in makings its determination and instead relied totally on the finding that her occupation did not place her at increased risk for the development of carpal tunnel.

“As noted by the Office of Judges,” the opinion states, “Dr. Hill, Ms. Adkins-Woods’s chiropractor, diagnosed her with a repetitive strain injury and found that she suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome, and an EMG revealed that she suffers from median nerve neuropathy in both wrists. Moreover, Dr. Hill opined in a set of questions provided by the claims administrator that Ms. Adkins-Woods suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome, and that the condition is a result of the repetitive use of her hands during the course of her employment.

“The reports from Dr. Hill and the results of the EMG are the only medical reports of record. Based on the evidence of record, the Office of Judges’ conclusion that Ms. Adkins-Woods established by a 'very slight preponderance' of the evidence that she developed carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of her employment is correct, and the decision of the Office of Judges should therefore be reinstated.

“For the foregoing reasons, we find that the decision of the Board of Review is clearly the result of erroneous conclusions of law, and is also based upon a material misstatement or mischaracterization of the evidentiary record. Therefore, the decision of the Board of Review is reversed, and the claim is remanded with the instruction to reinstate the November 16, 2010, Order of the Office of Judges holding the claim compensable for carpal tunnel syndrome.”

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