New York: Long-Term Exposure to Cold Found Insufficient to Support Occupational Disease Claim

A state park grounds-keeper, who worked outside—often in cold conditions—for more than 35 years, and who developed a diabetic ulceration with a secondary formation of osteomyelitis—an infection in a bone of his right foot—which required surgery and, later, partial amputation of his right foot, did not establish a claim for causally related occupational disease, held a New York appellate court [see Phelan v. Bethpage St. Park, 2015 N.Y. App. LEXIS 2577 (Mar. 26, 2015)].

Noting that the grounds-keeper alleged that his condition was the result of exposure to the cold while working outside, the appellate court stressed that under N.Y. Work. Comp. Law § 2 (15), the grounds-keeper had to establish a recognizable link between his or her condition and a distinctive feature of his or her occupation through the submission of competent medical evidence. The court indicated that because the grounds-keeper alleged that his condition resulted from the environment in which he worked, rather than from any distinctive feature of his maintenance and grounds keeping work, the Board properly denied his claim.

The court added that the medical evidence presented in the case was less than compelling. The carrier’s podiatrist testified that diabetes and a number of other factors, including cold weather, could have been causative factors. Claimant’s treating podiatrist also testified that there were many potential causes of his condition, including diabetes and other medical conditions as well as the cold weather, and then opined that his condition was “in part” due to extreme weather conditions. Claimant’s expert conceded, however, on cross-examination, that he did not know what caused the condition, a concession upon which the Board relied.

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