Injuries that Occur While Treating Patients: Traumatic Injuries Under the Worker’s Compensation Statute

Casey Shorts

Most worker’s compensation claims that we see consist of a worker who sustains a traumatic injury while they are working, as opposed to an occupational exposure/repetitive use injury. Both injuries are compensable claims under the worker’s compensation statute; however, they need to be analyzed in differing ways. Examples of traumatic injury cases would be a construction worker who is hit in the shoulder by a falling object on the work site, an assembly line worker who has her hand crushed by a press, or a nurse who slips on the ER floor and breaks his wrist. We also see cases that involve healthcare workers who are accidentally injured by a patient while they are treating that patient. A simple example would be a semi-sedated patient who incoherently strikes a nurse in the face breaking her nose, or a convulsing patient who suddenly jerks forward head-butting his doctor causing a concussion. Although it could be viewed as the patient’s fault for causing the injury, these types of injuries also fall under the worker’s compensation statute as it is an injury that occurred within the course and scope of the healthcare provider’s employment.

Another common injury we see among healthcare workers involves hypodermic needles. Consider the following occurrence:

Jane is a nurse who works in the emergency room at St. Paul’s Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. An unconscious patient comes into the ER to be treated for injuries he received during a motor vehicle accident. Unknown to Jane, the injured patient has hepatitis-C. Sarah uses a hypodermic needle to administer pain medication to the patient. While injecting the unconscious patient, the patient suddenly awakes and jerks forward in a confused manner. This in turn causes Jane to accidentally poke her own hand with the hypodermic needle after it was in the infected patient. Immediately, Jane seeks medical treatment for her stab wound, and soon finds out she has contracted hepatitis-C because of the needle injury.

Ordinarily, Jane’s hand injury would be covered under the worker’s compensation statute as a “scheduled injury.” However, under these facts this would not be just a “scheduled injury,” it would also be categorized as a “non-scheduled injury.” (Again, refer to the previous blog post on scheduled v. non-scheduled injuries). Although the original injury occurred to Sarah’s hand, a statutorily “scheduled injury,” the resulting injuries from the inadvertent needle poke—contracting hepatitis-C—effects her entire body. Therefore, this injury would be classified as a “non-scheduled” injury. Importantly, Sarah’s original injury that occurred to her hand as well as the resulting complications of contracting hepatitis-C are covered by her employer’s worker’s compensation insurance carrier.

Similar to my last blog post regarding bladder injuries, what is difficult in these types of claims is establishing a patient’s permanent work restrictions and their permanent partial disability rating. You’ll recall a permanent partial disability rating is compensation for a physical impairment that affects the worker’s ability to perform their occupation. Whether or not a permanent partial disability rating due to hepatitis-C can impair an individual’s ability to perform their work duties can be difficult to determine. Further, if complications of hepatitis-C infection eventually render Sarah unable to perform her job duties as a nurse, she would then have a claim under the worker’s compensation statute for her loss of earning capacity.

Like bladder injuries, traumatic injuries caused by a patient may appear to be a strange worker’s compensation claim. However, in reality these types of claims are all too common and a healthcare provider may not realize that an injury and the lingering side effects of that injury are compensable under the worker’s compensation statute.

If you have been injured at work and have questions regarding the worker’s compensation system, please contact The Previant Law Firm as soon as possible. Call (414) 240-1185 or visit our website.