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Worker's claim of blindness from fracking chemicals rejected

Worker's claim of blindness from fracking chemicals rejected

An appeals court in Pennsylvania has denied the appeal of a man denied workers compensations benefits after he claimed to be blinded from exposure to chemicals used on a hydraulic fracturing site.

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of a workers compensation judge who ruled in April 2013 that the worker, James Dershem, had not proved that his former employers were responsible for his vision problems.

On the night of Aug. 23-24, 2011, Mr. Dershem said he was sprayed in the face with water while working to prepare a water tank (for) transportation at a gas drilling site in Hepburnville, Pennsylvania, according to court records. He said he flushed his eyes with bottles water but continued to work his shift. Citing blurred vision, Mr. Dershem sought medical attention, and in September 2011 he filed a claim against his then-employer, Dean Puderbaugh Trucking, seeking total disability benefits and payment of medical bills.

Dean Puderbaugh disputed that the accident occurred and contended that the water in the tanks at the time was unused fresh water, records show.

In hearings before a workers compensation judge, an ophthalmologist testifying for the defense said that after performing a complete eye examination on Mr. Dershem, he determined that the damage observed in the back of his eyes could not have been caused by a spraying of chemicals to the face because such chemicals could not reach the interior of the eye without causing serious damage to the front of the eye.

Conversely, Mr. Dershem's medical expert was a family practice physician who had not treated him for any eye condition, according to court records.

The workers compensation judge found the defense expert “credible” and rejected the claimant's testimony as “not creditable.”

Writing in an unpublished decision, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court said the workers compensation judge was correct to reject Mr. Dershem's claim.

“It was Claimant's burden to prove by competent and credible medical testimony that his injury was caused by the work incident that he alleged,” the ruling states. “Given the WCJ's rejection of Claimant's medical expert as not credible, Claimant could not meet his burden of proof and denial of the Claim Petition was required regardless of any other evidence or factual disputes in the case.”

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