Arkansas: Diabetic Ulcer Claim Related to Toe Blister From Employee-Supplied Boots Found Compensable

The Supreme Court of Arkansas, construing the state’s restrictive statute regarding the compensability of repetitive motion injuries, recently reversed a decision by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Commission that had denied, with one commissioner dissenting, an employee’s claim for benefits related to an injury to the employee’s great toe [see Pearson v. Worksource, 2012 Ark. 406 (Nov. 1, 2012)]. 

The employee, a diabetic, worked for an employment staffing company. On June 8, 2009, he was assigned to work for Macsteel, which supplied the employee with steel-toe boots. The employee indicated that within a few hours of wearing the boots, he began to experience pain in the region of his left great toe. Later, he was diagnosed as having a diabetic ulcer on the toe. The ALJ found that the employee had established that he had sustained a compensable injury to his left-great toe, either as an accidental “specific incident” injury or as an injury caused by rapid-repetitive motion. The Commission reversed, finding that the employee had failed to prove the occurrence of an injury that could be specifically identified by time and place of occurrence and that the employee’s description of the events did not meet the definition of “rapid-repetitive” motion. The Supreme Court disagreed. The court indicated that without analysis, the Commission determined that because the employee’s injury (the blister) may have gradually worsened over the course of the work day, it could not be categorized as a specific-incident injury.

Citing Edens v. Superior Marble & Glass, 346 Ark. 487, 58 S.W.3d 369 (2001), the court indicated that a strict construction of the repetitive injury statute [Ark. Code Ann. § 11–9–102(4)(A)(i)] did not require, as a prerequisite to compensability, that the claimant identify the precise time and numerical date upon which an accidental injury occurred. Instead, the statute only required that the claimant prove that the occurrence of the injury was capable of being identified. The court observed that in Cedar Chemical Co. v. Knight, 372 Ark. 233, 273 S.W.3d 473 (2008), the claimant had been awarded benefits in spite of not being able to identify a precise moment when the injury occurred. The court concluded that in as much as the Commission had not discounted the employee’s testimony that within a few hours of starting work he felt pain in his left great toe, that it continued to be sore throughout the day, and that a visible blister emerged, reasonable minds could not disagree on the incident that caused the employee’s injury.

For an extended discussion of these issues, see Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 42.01, et seq.

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