If a construction worker breaks a leg falling off a ladder or an office manager severs a finger in the company’s paper shredder, are these employees entitled to workers’ compensation benefits?
When the injuries are considered work related, the quick answer is yes.
But if an injury occurs at work that is non-orthopedic, such as a stroke, is the company still legally responsible for the worker’s associated medical bills? And if the employee is temporarily or permanently unable to work, does the company continue to pay the employee?
A workers’ compensation judge in Easton, PA thinks so, according to court documents.
In a recent workers’ compensation case, the judge ruled in favor of the 50-year-old employee from Forks Township, John Ruschak, who suffered a stroke while working at a manufacturing plant in Easton, owned and operated by Victaulic Construction Piping.
Ruschak was working as an auto pour operator in the “hot room” at a Victaulic’s plant where iron is heated into a liquid form. The molten iron is approximately 2,500 degrees, according to testimony given by the company’s corporate safety officer, Zachary Jerrold.
As an auto pour operator, Ruschak’s responsibilities included carrying two 35-pound buckets up a flight of stairs and operating a 22-pound jackhammer.
It also required him to wear welding clothes under an aluminum-coated Kevlar suit, steel tipped boots, a welding-type helmet and fire proof splash guards up to his knees.
While operating a jackhammer, Ruschak felt a pinch in the back of his head and immediately lost the ability to move his legs. Suffering the effects of a stroke, he was immediately sent to the hospital, where he fell into a coma for three weeks.
Paralyzed on the left side of his body, Ruschak applied for workers’ compensation benefits, but the company contested. This prompted him to hire a prominent Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer, David Stern.
In an interview for this story, Ruschak's lawyer acknowledges the case was exceptionally unusual.
“Workers’ compensation cases typically involve an orthopedic injury,” said Stern. “However, based on the facts of this case, I felt strongly that the type of work he was doing at the time, and the work environment led to John’s medical condition.”
Based on the judge’s ruling, Ruschak will receive $718 a week in lost wages, which could amount to $1.1 million over his lifetime, if he remains disabled. The company will also be responsible for covering all past and future medical care expenses associated with the stroke.
Both medical and wage benefits will be paid through the company’s workers’ compensation insurance policy, which employers are required by law to carry.
Article first published as Judge Rules Company Liable for Employer's Stroke on Technorati.