Auto accident complicates workers' comp case

While working for Westaff Inc., a temporary employment agency, Calithia Thomas was placed at Alliance Compressor in Natchitoches, La., where her duties included using a T-bar tool to insert plugs into a compressor. On March 11, 2002, Thomas reported her r

While working for Westaff Inc., a temporary employment agency, Calithia Thomas was placed at Alliance Compressor in Natchitoches, La., where her duties included using a T-bar tool to insert plugs into a compressor. On March 11, 2002, Thomas reported her right hand was hurting. She said that while inserting a plug, she pushed hard and felt a sharp pain travel up her right hand to her elbow. Westaff sent her to a doctor, Jack Corley, who diagnosed her with fasciitis of the right hand, but said she could return to regular duty. After the incident, Alliance asked Westaff not to send Thomas back to work, because it was concerned that her small size (4 ft, 11 in., 102 lb) contributed to her hand problems.

Thomas did not return to Alliance, but she filed a claim for workers' compensation from Westaff, asserting she had been injured while at Alliance and partially disabled as a result. Her lawyer recommended an orthopedist, Dr. Baer Rambach, who diagnosed a probable contusion of the right hand with possible median-nerve involvement. He recommended an EMG study. On July 8, 2004, Thomas was involved in a minor car accident. On July 18, she got the EMG, which showed no abnormalities. On Aug. 30, she was examined by an orthopedist chosen by Westaff, Dr. David Delapp, who said she had a right-hand contusion but was capable of returning to work without restrictions. Thomas returned to Dr. Rambach on Sept. 23, 2002, who, in a letter dated Dec. 12, 2002, said she was still unable to return to work at Alliance as a result of her work-related injury.

At trial in July 2003, the workers'-compensation judge dismissed her claim for workers' compensation benefits because, although Thomas was involved in an accident while at Alliance, no disability resulted from the accident. Thomas appealed to the Louisiana Court of Appeal, which upheld the ruling of the workers' comp judge. Noting the judge questioned whether some her problems were due to her July 2002 car accident, the appellate court concluded Thomas was not disabled by a work-related injury.

Thomas v. Westaff Inc., 874 So.2d 926 (La.App. 2004), Louisiana Court of Appeal, May 12, 2004.

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