In a recent case, the Commission held that an employee did not deserve to be awarded permanent disability benefits, even though she was accidentally stuck with a needle that was potentially contaminated with deadly viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C, while she was working in a healthcare setting. See Claimant’s needle prick doesn’t merit permanent disability award. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law Bulletin, Volume 29, Issue 7, June 11, 2021, p.5. In the case discussed in the aforesaid article, Kaiser v. St. Michael’s Counseling Center, Inc., 29 ILWCLB 72 (Ill. W.C. Comm. 2021), the claimant, a nurse, was employed by a methadone clinic, with her job duties including taking patients’ blood pressure, distributing medicines, and drawing blood as well. While drawing the blood of a heroin-addicted patient who was infected with hepatitis C (so the patient could also be tested for HIV), the claimant was accidentally stuck with the needle that she was using for the blood draw, when the patient jumped up while the claimant inserted the needle in his arm, with the needle coming out in the process. The claimant was understandably worried about the possibility of contracting blood-borne diseases, such as those mentioned above, but when she was subsequently tested (and also prescribed antiviral drugs and prophylaxis for HIV, which made the claimant nauseated and caused her abdominal pain), she was found to be negative for both hepatitis C and A, as well as for HIV. Relieved that she was free from any potentially deadly viral infections, the claimant still suffered from the emotional after-effects of her anxiety, from when she was still awaiting her test results and unsure whether she had been infected or not. The Arbitrator awarded the claimant permanent partial disability benefits, having found that she sustained a 3.5% loss of the use of a person as a whole, but on appeal, the Commission held that the claimant failed to prove that she suffered any permanent disability due to the accident. According to the Commission, the claimant failed to provide any evidence of permanent disability, especially since she tested negative for the diseases that she was concerned about. As far as the Commission was concerned, the fact that the claimant was stressed while she awaited her test results was not evidence of disability, and moreover, the claimant was never actually diagnosed with any type of psychological injury or disorder, either. Something else the Commission took note of was that the claimant was able to continue working as a nurse at the methadone clinic, despite the needle incident, and it therefore reversed the decision of the Arbitrator awarding the claimant permanent disability benefits.
About a year or so ago, I wrote a blog article regarding a case that my employer handled, in which a claimant was awarded benefits for mental injuries sustained at work, which was seen as a potentially trend-setting case. Yet in that case, the claimant was diagnosed with an actual mental disorder and/or injury, while the claimant in Kaiser was not diagnosed with anything, and only made general assertions about suffering mental injuries. The main point here is that a claimant probably needs to be diagnosed with an actual mental injury, before either the
Arbitrator or Commission will award him or her any kind of disability benefits.
See Claimant’s needle prick doesn’t merit permanent disability award. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law Bulletin, Volume 29, Issue 7, June 11, 2021, p.5.
Attorney Matthew Ludwinski