Fall at work leads to workers'-comp benefits

John M. Hodges worked in the maintenance shop at the Equity Group, a North Carolina company, fixing machine guards. On April 16, 2001, Hodges decided to install a guard he had prepared on a machine to make sure it worked properly. He left the maintenance

John M. Hodges worked in the maintenance shop at the Equity Group, a North Carolina company, fixing machine guards. On April 16, 2001, Hodges decided to install a guard he had prepared on a machine to make sure it worked properly. He left the maintenance shop and started onto the factory floor. As he turned a corner, his feet came out from under him, and he landed on his right hip and back. He did not slip on anything, and he did not see any obstructions on the floor. Although Hodges felt pain after his fall, he kept working.

The next morning, Hodges felt stiffness in his hip and numbness in his leg. Upon arriving at work, he reported the injury. Hodges worked his entire shift that day. By the next day, the pain had worsened, and he talked with his supervisor. The human-resources department scheduled an appointment for him with the company doctor, Joseph Guarino, who examined Hodges and prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug and ordered him to work on light-duty tasks. His condition grew worse, and he eventually went to a hospital where an MRI revealed a ruptured disc in his back.

The following Monday, Hodges saw Dr. Guarino, who said the disc herniation was not causing Hodges' pain because the herniation was on the left side and the pain was in his right leg and hip. Dr. Guarino told Hodges to return to work. Hodges then went to his family doctor who sent him to neurosurgeon Dr. James Vasick.

Dr. Vasick had operated on Hodges' back in 1998 in the same location as the current rupture. In May and June 2001, Hodges underwent two surgeries to correct the disc herniation. The pain lessened after the surgeries, but Hodges still had some pain in his right hip and leg. Equity Group terminated Hodges in August 2001.

Hodges filed a workers'compensation claim with the North Carolina Industrial Commission. At the hearing, Dr. Vasick testified that Hodges could not work and would need further treatment. The Commission concluded that Hodges had been injured in his fall and suffered a disc herniation, and awarded him temporary total-disability compensation.

Equity appealed, asserting Hodges' fall did not relate to or arise out of his employment and he was not entitled to workers'-comp benefits. According to Equity, Hodges' fall was caused by an idiopathic medical condition and not by any conditions at the plant. However, the appellate court held that Equity had failed to prove this contention. The court upheld the Commission's conclusion that Hodges' back injury was a compensable work-related injury.

Hodges v. Equity Group, 596 S.E.2d 31 (N.C.App. 2004), Court of Appeals of North Carolina, May 18, 2004.
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