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A news station makeup artist failed to prove that her infectious disease was caused by rat droppings she alleged she came across while working for a New York Fox News affiliate and that her travel aboard to a developing country could be related, an appeals court in New York ruled Thursday.
Julie Petesic filed a workers compensation claim in 2015 asserting that she contracted an airborne illness from dead rodents in her workplace, exposing her to Bartonella bacteria, according to documents in Julie Petesic v. Fox 5 New York et. al., Workers’ Compensation Board, filed in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Third Department, in New York.
A Workers' Compensation Law Judge found that Ms. Petesic “failed to prove a causal link between her employment and the contraction of the disease” and denied the claims, according to documents. The Workers' Compensation Board upheld the denial for the same reason.
On appeal, Ms. Petesic testified that she “observed one live mouse or rat at her place of employment in November 2014, and that she touched what she believed to be mouse droppings in previous years.” She also testified that there was an odor of dead animals at her workplace that was contained to a stockroom that only she had access to, documents state.
She acknowledged in court “that she did not make any written complaint to her employer's human resources department regarding rodents or their droppings, and the employer's human resources director likewise confirmed that no complaints of that nature had been received.”
Ms. Petesic’s supervisor, who had held that position for over 11 years at the time of the hearing, also testified that she had “never observed rodents or their droppings in or around claimant's work space and that she was unaware of any reports of rodents from other employees on claimant's floor,” documents state.
The physician who examined the claimant at the end of December 2014 and treated her for Bartonella explained to the court that “Bartonella is an uncommon infection and that it is spread by the feces and urine of mice and rats, as well as farm animals.”
The physician also testified that he asked claimant about her travel history, and claimant did not report any travel to third-world countries or farm areas. Based on the information provided by claimant, the physician opined that there was a "distinct possibility" that claimant contracted Bartonella at work.
Yet “when informed that claimant had previously traveled to Croatia, the physician testified that he would consider parts of Croatia to be the developing world and, in his opinion, if claimant had been through the countryside in Croatia, it would be possible that she contracted Bartonella there.
The doctor also stated that, “assuming that claimant had traveled to Croatia, he could not determine whether claimant contracted the disease at work,” documents state.
In affirming the board’s denial of her claim, the appeals court ruled that “although there was medical testimony that could support a finding that claimant's contraction of Bartonella was causally related to her employment” that her case “contained conflicting findings and equivocal narratives that stem, in part, from claimant's failure to be entirely forthcoming with the physician about her travel history.”
“In light of claimant's failure to disclose this relevant information, the Board found that the physician's opinion as to causation was not reliable,” the ruling stated.
The news station and attorneys involved could not immediately be reached for comment.
A man who was disabled following a bout with Legionnaires’ Disease, which he said was caused by exposure to contaminated water while performing his job, is entitled to workers compensation indemnity and medical benefits, a Pennsylvania appellate court ruled.