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Forklift driver’s gardening injury compensable

workers comp

A forklift driver who suffered elbow pain prior to breaking her wrist while gardening at home is eligible for permanent disability, a Missouri appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Karen Ritchie was in her fifth year of working as a forklift operator for Silgan Containers Manufacturing Corp., a job that caused pain to her left elbow, when she fell at home in her garden and broke her left wrist in 2014, as documented in Karen Ritchie v. Silgan Containers Manufacturing Corp. et al., filed in the Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, in Kansas City.

During and following treatment for the wrist injury, Ms. Ritchie began suffering more pain in her left elbow, which doctors testified was exacerbated by her wrist injury and required treatment that included surgeries that were unsuccessful in alleviating pain.

Unable to work Ms. Ritchie filed a workers compensation claim two years later. Three years into litigation an administrative law judge in 2019 ruled in her favor, concluding that she suffered an occupational injury that rendered her permanently totally disabled and unable to compete in the open labor market.

The judge awarded Ms. Ritchie weekly permanent total disability benefits, along with $25,456 in uncompensated medical benefits. The state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission affirmed the award.

On appeal, Silgan contended the claim was time-barred because it was not reported within 30 days following her wrist injury in 2014. It also said the commission “erred by finding that Ritchie sustained an occupational disease due to repetitive motion” and that “there was not sufficient competent evidence in the record to warrant the Commission's finding that Ritchie sustained an occupational disease,” according to the ruling.

The appeals court affirmed the earlier rulings, writing that the claim was not time-barred and that medical testimony showed a connection between the disability and Ms. Ritchie’s work.

The appeals court said Ms. Ritchie’s award was subject to 10% interest per year on her weekly benefit payments attributable to her permanent total disability, beginning 30 days from the administrative law judge's original award on Oct. 16, 2019.