Duffy v. Hanesbrands, Inc., No. COA08-1247 (N.C. Ct. App. 09/01/09, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the worker's entitlement to benefits, determining that she suffered from a compensable occupational disease.
What it means: In North Carolina, a worker may be entitled to workers' compensation benefits if she can demonstrate that she suffers from a compensable occupational disease and was last injuriously exposed to the hazards of the disease while working for the last employer. A condition may qualify as an occupational disease where: 1) it is characteristic of people engaged in the particular trade or occupation that the worker is engaged in; 2) it is not an ordinary disease of life to which the public is equally exposed; and 3) there is a causal connection between the disease and the worker's employment.
The worker was employed as a sewing machinist for more than 25 years before starting work for the employer as a training technical engineer. Her duties included spending 10 to 12 hours per day training factory employees on sewing procedures, repeatedly demonstrating the same techniques. After a year, the worker began experiencing numbness in her fingers, a shock going up her arm, and weakened grip. She was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and taken off work indefinitely. Her employer denied her claim, arguing she did not establish that her employment exposed her to a greater risk of contracting the disease than the general public. It also argued she did not show her exposure significantly contributed to or was a significant factor in the development of CTS. It further alleged her CTS was primarily caused by working for her former employer for 25 years. The Court of Appeals rejected its arguments, concluding the worker only needed to show she had an occupational disease and that her work with her employer exposed her to the hazards of CTS.
The court reasoned the worker's employment in the sewing industry exposed her to a greater risk of suffering CTS than the public generally and CTS was not an ordinary disease of life. Also, there was a causal connection between her CTS and her 30-year employment in the sewing industry. It further reasoned the worker was last exposed to the hazards of CTS while working at the employer's factory. The worker showed she began experiencing pain as a result of training other workers in the employer's factory and not beforehand. Thus, the court upheld the finding that the worker suffered a compensable occupational disease while working for the employer.
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October 8, 2009
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