Employee Carpal Tunnel Claim is not Time-Barred

October 25, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The Illinois Supreme Court has reversed a lower court decision that an employee's claim for benefits for medical treatment of work-induced Carpal Tunnel Syndrome was filed too late for her to receive benefits.

In its opinion, the Illinois Supreme Court cited a previous case in which an appellate panel stated “fact of the injury” is not synonymous with “fact of discovery.” RLI Insurance Company employee Deana Durand had admitted that she began feeling pain and numbness in her arm and hand as early as 1997. However, she was not diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel until September 2000.

The state’s high court noted that courts reviewing similar cases typically set the manifestation date on either the date on which the employee requires medical treatment or the date on which the employee can no longer perform work activities. The court pointed out that if Durand would have filed a claim in 1997, she would have had difficulty proving her injury.

Though she expressed doubts about whether her symptoms were related to a work injury as early as 1998, the court said a reasonable person would not have known what the injury was and whether it was work related until the time of diagnosis. The court concluded that Durand’s 2001 claim for benefits was timely.

In addition, the court said in its opinion, “We decline to penalize an employee who diligently worked through progressive pain until it affected her ability to work and required medical treatment.”

In January 1998, Durand informed her supervisor that she noticed pain in her hands several months earlier and that she believed the pain was work related. Durand continued working and the pain in her hands increased. When she saw her doctor in 2000, the doctor concluded that the hand and wrist pain were “probably carpal tunnel.” She referred Durand to a specialist for a nerve study.

The specialist’s diagnosis in September 2000 was “very mild or early right median nerve entrapment at the wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome).” He concluded that Duran’s condition was work related. However, a doctor that examined Durand at the request of RLI’s insurer agreed she had Carpal Tunnel, but did not agree it was work related or aggravated by her work. Durand had surgery to repair her right median nerve on February 12, 2001 and her left median nerve on June 4, 2001.

In June of 2002 an arbitrator at a hearing on Durand’s claim found that Durand sustained a repetitive-trauma accident caused by her work. The arbitrator decided that Durand’s claim fell within the limitations period and awarded her medical expenses, as well as weekly compensation for temporary total disability and permanent partial disability in her right and left hands.

RLI filed a petition for review and in September 2003, the Industrial Commission reversed the arbitrator’s decision. Durand filed a judicial review complaint and the trial court confirmed the Commission’s decision. An appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the decisions of the lower courts and Industrial Commission and remanded the case for further review.

The opinion in Durand v. The Industrial Commission, et. al. is here .