CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has affirmed an order that clerical work does not cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
This appeal arises from the Board of Review’s Final Order dated Oct. 1, 2014, in which the Board reversed an April 1, 2014, order of the Workers' Compensation Office of Judges, the memorandum decision states.
"In its Order, the Office of Judges reversed the claims administrator’s March 7, 2013, decision rejecting the claim and instead held the claim compensable for carpal tunnel syndrome," the decision states. "The court has carefully reviewed the records, written arguments, and appendices contained in the briefs, and the case is mature for consideration. "
The decision was concurred in by Justices Robin J. Davis, Brent D. Benjamin, Menis E. Ketchum and Allen H. Loughry II. Chief Justice Margaret L. Workman dissented.
"Ms. [Hope] Gresham, an MCLE coordinator, alleges that she developed carpal tunnel syndrome in the course of her employment," the decision states. "Treatment notes by Marietta Babayev, M.D., from January of 2013 indicate that Ms. Gresham reported bilateral hand numbness. An EMG revealed severe bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, worse on the right; mild left cubital tunnel syndrome; ulnar nerve entrapment at the elbow; and chronic bilateral cervical radiculopathy."
Babayev later opined that the carpal tunnel syndrome was an occupational disease caused by repetitive use of the hands while doing data entry for 26 years
Gresham was referred to Dr. Robert Crow, who found that she had long standing complaints consistent with carpal tunnel syndrome and he also determined that she had neck pain but no radiculopathy, high blood pressure or osteoarthritis. Crow recommended surgery on her right hand.
Gresham completed an injured worker questionnaire for carpal tunnel syndrome in which she reported that she has a cervical disc disorder, cervical spondylosis or arthritis, stiff neck/neck pain, high blood pressure and obesity and an employee questionnaire was also completed for the West Virginia State Bar by Sarah Jones.
Gresham testified in a deposition on June 19, 2013, that she types approximately six hours a day at work and that she had no hand/wrist problems prior to her employment. She stated that her symptoms developed five years prior when she developed numbness, tingling and pain in both hands.
A physician review was completed on March 6, 2013, by Dr. Rebecca Thaxton, who opined that the evidence does not support a diagnosis of work-related carpal tunnel syndrome. Dr. Prasadarao Mukkamala concurred in his Nov. 19, 2013, independent medical evaluation and concluded that Gresham's carpal tunnel syndrome is not causally related to her employment.
The claims administrator rejected the claim on March 7, 2013, and, on April 1, 2014, the Office of Judges reversed the decision and held the claim compensable for bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome.
The Office of Judges reiterated that Gresham's job is not a normal clerical job because it is faster paced with a higher volume of work and determined that while Gresham may have a non-occupational risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome, this does not necessarily mean that it was the sole cause of her disease.
The Board of Review reversed and vacated the Office of Judges' order and reinstated the claims administrator’s decision and concluded that Gresham failed to show that her job involves any of those factors. It stated that her job duties do not fall in the high risk categories for work-related carpal tunnel syndrome; however, her medical history shows a significant non-occupational risk factor for the condition in the form of obesity.
On appeal, Gresham argued that she performed intensive typing at a fast pace for 26 years and that the Office of Judges' order was supported by the evidentiary record, and the Board of Review was wrong to reverse the decision.
"After review, we agree with the reasoning and conclusions of the Board of Review," the decision states. "Ms. Gresham’s job is clerical in nature. West Virginia Code of State Rules § September 12, 1986.5 states that normal clerical work does not cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Even though her work load may be large, her duties are still clerical in nature.
"Additionally, she has an increased body mass, a non-occupational risk factor for the development of carpal tunnel syndrome."
For these reasons, the court found that the decision of the Board of Review is not in clear violation of any constitutional or statutory provision, nor is it clearly the result of erroneous conclusions of law, nor is it based upon a material misstatement or mischaracterization of the evidentiary record.
The decision of the Board of Review was affirmed.
Gresham is represented by J. Robert Weaver
The West Virginia State Bar is represented by Timothy E. Huffman.
W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case number: 14-1123