Operator proves relationship between seizures, heat-related illness
Steele v. Surry County, No. COA10-607 (N.C. Ct. App. 04/05/11, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that a heavy equipment operator was entitled to temporary total disability benefits.
it means: In North Carolina, a worker can show his injury was causally related to his heat-related illness at work if a doctor rejects other possible causes of the injury.
Summary: A heavy equipment operator worked at a county landfill. He spent most of his time at the bottom of a pit where there was nothing to circulate the air. He spent 30 minutes dragging a piece of metal cable to the edge of the landfill. The temperature was 98 degrees with 60 percent humidity. Afterward, he told a coworker he was not feeling well and that he was hot. The coworker observed the operator with perspiration soaking his shirt. The operator called the coworker over, and he fell face down on the ground, appearing lifeless. The operator subsequently had a seizure. When the operator was released from the hospital, he continued to have frequent seizures. The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that the operator showed his seizures were causally related to the heat-related illness, and he was entitled to temporary total disability benefits.
Contrary to the county's contention, the court concluded that the operator sustained a heat-related illness. A doctor diagnosed him with a heat stroke. Another doctor said that working outdoors doing strenuous activity in the heat placed the operator at a higher risk of having a heat-related event.
The county also argued that the operator failed to show his seizures were caused by the heat-related illness. The court disagreed. Three doctors had differing opinions, but one doctor was given more weight because he rejected other possible causes of the seizures in his examination. The doctor also considered the temporal proximity between the operator's heat-related illness and continued seizures. The other doctors did not examine the operator.
The court disagreed with the county's argument that the operator was not entitled to continuing disability benefits.
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May 19, 2011
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