In 1992, Jeanette Bass worked for Morganite Inc. in North Carolina as a brush inspector. Her job required her to perform tests on carbon-brush samples using various machines in the lab. She was responsible for cutting and grinding parts and measuring their density, hardness, and resistance. She said she was required to lift up to 15 lb approximately 20 times/day, and she had to lift between 50 and 65 lb three to six times/week.
On April 10, 2000, Bass reported an injury to the plant nurse and complained about pain in her right hand. She said the pain began on a Saturday while she was trying to open a sliding glass door in her son's house. She was referred to a neurologist who said Bass suffered from mild carpal-tunnel syndrome. Based on Bass's description of her job duties, the doctor said it seemed reasonable that Bass's carpal-tunnel syndrome was caused by her job.
On July 2, 2000, a neurosurgeon performed carpaltunnelrelease surgery on Bass's right hand. She returned to work in October 2000, with restrictions on heavy lifting. In January 2001, Bass left work and was provided medical leave with one-half her salary for six months. She saw an orthopedic surgeon, who performed carpal-tunnel release surgery on her left wrist in April 2001. The surgeon said that her employment could have been a contributing factor of her carpal-tunnel syndrome.
Bass filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, contending that her carpal-tunnel syndrome was an occupational disease she contracted in connection with her job duties at Morganite. One of the witnesses was Dr. George S. Edwards, an expert in hand and wrist disorders who had seen a videotape depicting an employee who demonstrated Bass's job duties. He testified that there was no causal connection between her job duties and her carpal-tunnel syndrome. Dr. Edwards said age was the major factor in causing Bass's carpal-tunnel syndrome.
Relying on Dr. Edwards's testimony, the North Carolina Industrial Commission concluded that Bass was not entitled to workers' compensation benefits. Bass appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, but lost. The court noted that to prove an occupational disease, an employee has to show that the disease is characteristic of the trade or occupation, is not an ordinary disease of life to which the public is equally exposed, and a causal connection exists between the disease and the employment.
The court concluded that Bass had failed to make the required showing. Noting that the evidence supported the Commission's findings, the court said the Commission was entitled to give greater weight to the testimony of Dr. Edwards than to that of the other doctors.
Bass v. Morganite Inc.,