Work-related cause of injury in workers’ comp

A worker who is hurt on the job in Connecticut is generally eligible to receive workers' compensation benefits to cover medical expenses and replace wages while the injured person is unable to return to the job.

Connecticut's workers' compensation program began in 1913 and has undergone a number of changes, always aimed at helping workers who are hurt, sickened or family members of those killed in the workplace.

Resolving disagreement

After a claim for workers' compensation is processed, there is not always agreement with the results. If a worker was denied benefits but believes benefits should have been awarded, or if the worker was granted benefits and the employer believes benefits should not have been awarded, there is an appeal process.

The first step is a hearing conducted by Workers' Compensation Commission staff in one of the agency's district offices. The commission takes testimony from the worker, the employer, physicians who treated the worker and physicians who have reviewed the facts or have special expertise in the particular type of injury. Other witnesses could include coworkers and supervisors.

If the commission's decision is unsatisfactory to either party, the case can be appealed for further review by the Compensation Review Board, comparable to a panel of judges who go over the decision and the evidence, applying the law and comparing findings in similar cases.

A recent case

In a case recently decided by the CRB, the worker's eligibility for benefits hinged on whether his injury was caused by his work. The worker was employed doing electrical work for 25 years, handling tools and equipment that weighed up to 60 pounds. He then spent about 10 years doing construction work, mainly demolition and overhead pipe installation until he became unable to work in 2009 due to shoulder pain.

The worker had begun feeling shoulder strain in 2004, and pain continued to worsen while he kept doing the same work. Doctors attributed the pain to degenerative arthritis and tearing, with one doctor testifying that he suffered from repetitive trauma in the shoulders.

When the worker was awarded workers' compensation, the employer appealed, arguing that the underlying cause for the worker's disability was arthritis and that other activities outside of work damaged the shoulder.

An important result

The CRB upheld the award of workers' compensation benefits, even though the worker may have had a predisposition to arthritis. The worker played softball and did weight lifting, but those activities would not have produced the kind of damage his shoulder suffered. The CRB found that repeatedly lifting heavy tools overhead as a part of his job functions was a substantial contributing factor to the worker's injury. To obtain workers' compensation benefits, that was sufficient.

The CRB's decision is important for all Connecticut workers who may hesitate to file a workers' compensation claim because they think on-the-job activity was not the sole factor that led to an injury. As long as the work activity contributed to the injury, workers' compensation should cover it.

Consulting with an attorney who specializes in workers' compensation will be very helpful for workers who have any doubts over whether they will succeed in a claim or who are at all uncertain that they know how to proceed properly. In order to receive workers' compensation benefits, a sick or injured employee must follow the proper procedures, and an attorney can help make sure no mistakes are made in the claim. An attorney can also represent the worker in any appeals that may be necessary.