Sudden onset of pain undermines operator's claim of chronic problem
Case name: Reid v. Hospira, Inc., No. COA10-895 (N.C. Ct. App. 04/05/11, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that a production operator did not have an occupational disease that led to her rotator cuff tear.
What it means: In North Carolina, a rotator cuff tear may be classified as an occupational disease if the tear was the result of an underlying gradual disease process.
Summary: A production operator for a pharmaceutical manufacturer worked at a station where she loaded carts with 40-pound boxes containing liquid-filled bottles. As she was lifting a box, she felt a pop in her right shoulder. She experienced pain, and a doctor told her she had a shoulder strain and could return to light-duty work. The operator sought treatment from another doctor, who diagnosed her with bursitis tendinitis and a small rotator cuff tear. The operator asserted that she suffered from an occupational disease. The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that the operator did not have an occupational disease.
The court said that it was undisputed that the operator's shoulder injury occurred during the course and scope of her employment and that it was not the result of an accident. The court previously held that a rotator cuff tear was an occupational disease, but in those cases there was evidence that the tear was the result of an underlying gradual disease process. In this case, two doctors reached different conclusions regarding the operator's injury. The court said the evidence showed the operator was at a greater risk than the general public of contracting bursitis tendinitis. The court explained that the operator did not prove she had a chronic problem. Rather, she suffered an acute injury.
The operator also argued that she was terminated for reasons related to her injury and that she was entitled to benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The court found the operator's argument to be without merit. The operator was placed on light-duty restrictions, and the manufacturer offered her light-duty work, but the operator stopped reporting to work. She was subsequently terminated for failing to report to work.
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May 31, 2011
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