Order apportioning permanent disability benefits reversed on appeal

In the case of Sullins v. United Parcel Service, Inc., the Connecticut Appellate Court discussed the claimant's eligibility for workers' compensation benefits where the disabling condition is caused by two separate, independent medical conditions, and only one of them is work related.

Background and procedural history

The claimant worked for the employer for approximately 32 years, unloading trucks and sorting small parts. In 1987, the claimant was diagnosed with diabetes, and, in 1998, he was diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy. The diabetic neuropathy impaired the claimant's use of his arms and hands, resulting in weakness and tingling of the hands and difficulty grasping things.

In 2003, the claimant also injured his upper arms and hands in a work-related accident. After the work injury, he obtained multiple surgeries and other medical treatment, and subsequently returned to work and performed his job duties without any restrictions until his retirement in 2008.

In 2010, an arthroscopic hand surgeon examined the claimant and assigned a disability rating of 44 percent permanent partial impairment to the claimant's upper arms and 40 percent permanent partial impairment to the claimant's hands. The surgeon determined that 10 percent of these impairments was attributable to medical conditions known as cubital tunnel syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome and the surgery used to treat these conditions. These medical conditions are painful and result from compression of nerves in the elbow and the wrist. The surgeon also determined that the claimant's work activities were not related to the claimant's non-occupational disease affecting his arms and hands.

The claimant filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits. The workers' compensation commissioner determined that the claimant was entitled to receive 10 percent permanent partial disability benefits to his upper arms and 10 percent permanent partial disability benefits to his hands. The commissioner's decision to reduce the claimant's benefits was based on a court ruling announced by the Connecticut Supreme Court in Deschenes v. Transco, Inc.

The commissioner's decision was upheld by the compensation review board. The defendants filed an appeal in the Appellate Court.

The Appellate Court's ruling

The Appellate Court reversed, stating that the Deschenes case did not apply and the claimant's permanent disability benefits should not have been reduced. In order for an employer to obtain an apportionment or reduction of permanent partial disability benefits under the Deschenes case, a two-part test must be met. First, the evidence must show that the two separate, independent medical conditions, only one of which is work related, developed concurrently. Second, there must be proof that the work-related injury did not exacerbate the non-occupational disease.

The second part of the test was met. Undisputed evidence showed that the claimant's work-related injuries did not play any role in increasing his diabetic neuropathy.

However, the first part of the test was not satisfied. Evidence showed that the impairment caused by the non-occupational disease-diabetic neuropathy-was a previous disability, and did not concurrently develop at the same time as the occupational diseases-cubital tunnel syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome. The claimant's loss of use of his hands and arms was caused, in part, by neuropathy stemming from the work-related diseases. The surgeon also determined that the 2003 work-related injuries substantially contributed to the claimant's permanent impairments. The injuries were separate and distinct from the diabetic neuropathy.

Contact an attorney

Workers' compensation matters can involve complex legal issues. Individuals seeking relief under the workers' compensation laws are urged to consult the professional services of a competent attorney who is experienced in such matters to ensure that their rights are fully protected.