A Pennsylvania appellate court has ruled in favor of a nurse whose allergy to the floor wax used by her employer created breathing problems that forced her to seek work elsewhere.
In April of 2010 Nancy Little was working full time as a registered nurse for Select Specialty Hospital in York, Pennsylvania. She began experiencing serious breathing problems, with symptoms so severe that she sought treatment at a nearby emergency room. After a few days off from work, she returned to her duties, but experienced the same symptoms again a month later. At that time she noted that the floors in the facility were being waxed. She also returned to the local emergency room for treatment, and was not able to go back to work for almost three weeks.
Ms. Little’s breathing problems continued with repeated episodes requiring emergency care. Following an episode in August of 2010 she did not return to Select Specialty for work. In October she applied for total disability workers’ compensation benefits for the time that she had missed from work, as well as the time that she was unemployed after leaving the hospital. Her claim was denied by Select Specialty, and in November she got a part-time job with another hospital, located in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Her new employer, Altoona Hospital, switched to a different type of wax upon learning of her allergy to the wax used by Select, and subsequently Ms. Little has not experienced any breathing problems in her new environment.
Ms. Little appealed Select Specialty’s denial of her claim, and upon review of her testimony and information provided by a toxicologist, a workers’ comp judge agreed that she had suffered disabling occupational asthma as a result of having been exposed to a chemical called di-isocyanate in the floor wax. The judge awarded her benefits for the weeks that she had missed and was unemployed, as well as partial disability benefits for a short period following, during which a physician had indicated that she had fully recovered, but Ms. Little appealed this decision, arguing that because she was unable to return to full time work, she should receive full compensation benefits. This claim was denied by the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, which found that because her asthma had resolved and she hadn’t shown residual impairment, the benefits that had been given were sufficient.
Ms. Little appealed this decision to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, which unanimously agreed with her position and reversed the decision by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. Though they agreed that her asthma had been resolved, the judges ruled that her continued sensitivity to the floor wax meant that she was not able to return to her pre-injury work environment, and that she was therefore able to collect additional benefits. The ruling stated that, “A claimant need only show the aggravation arose in the course of employment, the aggravation is related to the employment, and that the claimant cannot return to the work place because the aggravation will most probably occur.”
If you need a workers’ compensation lawyer in Pennsylvania contact Joseph DeRita at the Law Offices of Joseph DeRita with offices in Philadelphia & Jamison, PA.