An employee who could not return to her pre-injury job due to residual pulmonary conditions caused by workplace exposure to chemicals was entitled to ongoing disability benefits, the Commonwealth Court ruled in Little v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Select Specialty Hospital), __ A.3d __ (No. 1401 CD 2014, filed March 25, 2015). Nancy Little (Claimant), a nurse, suffered temporary periods of total disability as a result of occupational asthma caused by her exposure to Di-Isocyanate, a chemical component of a floor wax product used by Select Specialty Hospital (Employer). The WCJ awarded benefits for the time Claimant missed work and terminated benefits as of the date Employer’s IME physician determined Claimant had fully recovered. On appeal to the Board, Claimant argued she still suffered a wage loss related to her work injury based on her lower paying part-time position with a new employer. The Board affirmed the WCJ’s termination of benefits, holding that Claimant’s work injury had fully resolved and her condition returned to baseline.
Judge Simpson, writing for a unanimous Commonwealth Court panel, disagreed with the Board. The Court emphasized that Claimant developed occupational asthma and an ongoing sensitivity to Di-Isocyanate as a result of her pre-injury job. Thus, unlike the claimants in prior chemical exposure cases, Claimant did not return to her pre-injury medical baseline. Notwithstanding her currently normal pulmonary functions, the Court noted that Claimant’s asthma and ongoing sensitivity to Di-Isocyanate preclude her from returning to her pre-injury job. Thus, the Court held that the WCJ erred in determining that Claimant had fully recovered without any residual impairment, and remanded for the WCJ to consider an award of additional benefits.