Cumulative Trauma May Result in Compensable Injury
Leesburg Yarn Mills, Inc. v. Thomas Hood: Under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act, cumulative trauma may result in a compensable injury.
In 2016, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals decided the matter of Leesburg Yarn Mills, Inc. v. Thomas Hood [Ms. 2140888], — So.3d — (Ala.Civ.App. 2016), wherein the trial court found that Thomas Hood had suffered a compensable injury under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act (Ala. Code § 25-5-1) and accordingly, awarded compensation and medical benefits to Hood. Hood had been employed by Leesburg for approximately twenty-three (23) years, and continued to be employed by Leesburg during the trial of this matter. While Hood did not suffer an acute injury during his employment, he ultimately developed trigger finger and contended that his duties at Leesburg Yarn Mills exposed him to a greater risk of incurring trigger finger than was experienced by other persons not working in that job.
In matters of gradual deterioration or cumulative stress, an employee must establish through legal and medical causation by clear and convincing evidence. that his injury falls under the Workers’ Compensation Act. See Safeco Ins. Cos. v. Blackmon, 851 So.2d 532, 537 (Ala.Civ.App. 2002); see also Ex parte McInish, 47 So.3d 767, 778 (Ala. 2008). The trial court agreed that the cumulative trauma Hood experienced in his manual labor, involving repetitive motion (including pinching and grasping – he operated twenty-four carding machines and was responsible for transporting cans of cotton between various stations in the plant) as a routine part of his job over an extended period of time, caused his injury. To establish legal causation, “one seeking redress under the Workers’ Compensation Act for ‘nonaccidental’ injuries need only establish that the performance of his or her duties as an employee exposed him or her to a danger or risk materially in excess of that to which people are normally exposed in their everyday lives.” Ex parte Trinity Indus., Inc., 680 So. 2d 262, 269 (Ala. 1996).
Upon review by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, the appellate court held that where the trial court could reasonably be clearly convinced that an employee’s cumulative trauma that developed over the course of his employment legally and medically caused an injury, a finding of a compensable injury and awarding of compensation and medical benefits under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act is appropriate.