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Head injuries a school district employee sustained from an unknown cause are compensable, an appellate court held in a 2-1 decision on Friday.
In Blackburn v. Martin County Board of Education, the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed an administrative law judge’s decision to award benefits to the employee for traumatic brain injury, but denied that his cervical spine injury was compensable.
Archie Blackburn worked as an electrician and maintenance worker for the Martin County Board of Education when, on Oct. 30, 2015, he was discovered lying across the driver’s seat of his car outside an elementary school sewer plan and unresponsive. His right arm had scratches and abrasions and he had dried blood above his right ear.
He said he remembered hearing a noise while at the sewer plant and believed a belt in a motor was in need of repair. He said he believed he had been standing on a grate that broke and caused him to fall, but had no other memory of the event. He was taken to an emergency room, where physicians noted that the right side of Mr. Blackburn’s body would shake and tremor and a test indicated moderate brain injury, symptoms that were consistent with electrocution.
He filed a claim for workers compensation benefits for traumatic brain injury and a cervical spine injury. The Board of Education denied his claim, claiming that his injuries were malingering.
An administrative law judge found that Mr. Blackburn had suffered a work-related head injury, but found that he did not suffer a compensable injury to his cervical spine. Both the Board of Education and Mr. Blackburn appealed the ruling to the state Workers Compensation Board, which affirmed the administrative law judge’s opinion.
Both parties appealed again, but the appellate court affirmed the decision. The court noted that the administrative judge properly used his discretion to weight the evidence, noting that two physicians found evidence that Mr. Blackburn’s physical injuries were consistent with falling, including the blood in his ear.
Judge Jonathan Spalding affirmed the compensability of Mr. Blackburn’s traumatic brain injury but argued that the matter should have been remanded to the administrative law judge for further findings.
The judge held that the cause of Mr. Blackburn’s injury “is essential to determining what proof can be relied upon in assessing his claim for benefits.
Legislation to update Kentucky’s workers compensation system passed the state’s House of Representatives on Wednesday and is now headed for a Senate vote.