If you have been diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) then you will already know just how painful and debilitating this injury can be. If the onset of this condition was caused by an injury or incident at work, you may be entitled to make a claim for worker’s compensation. This article will examine worker’s compensation claims for a CRPS injury and a recent Supreme Court judgment that awarded a plaintiff suffering with CRPS over $1.95 million in compensation.
WorkCover benefits for injured workers, including those who suffer CRPS related to a work incident, can include compensation for:
What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?
CRPS is a condition that is generally brought on by an injury, whereby the pain experienced is disproportionate to what would be usually expected for the original injury.
There are two types of CRPS, type 1 and type 2. The difference is that CRPS type 2 involves an injury to a nerve. CRPS type 1 used to be known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. CRPS type 2 was known as Causalgia.
Both types of CRPS can involve symptoms such as:
- severe pain;
- colour changes to the skin;
- unusual hair growth;
- changes to the nails of the affected limb;
- temperature changes; and
- either an increase or decrease in sweat on the affected limb.
Can I make a worker’s compensation claim for CRPS?
The short answer is yes. So long as the injury occurred at or within the course of your employment, you can make a claim for worker’s compensation payments.
Generally, CRPS develops following a traumatic injury such as a fracture, or following a surgical procedure. Usually, the initial injury that led to the development of CRPS will be an accepted injury for the purposes of a worker’s compensation claim and therefore, ongoing compensation for the losses caused by CRPS will follow.
However, these claims can be quite complicated given the difficulty involved with diagnosing CRPS. It is not a condition that can be diagnosed by looking at a scan, such as a fracture or a torn ligament, and therefore, disputes about the cause of the pain and ongoing consequences frequently arise.
Injured worker secures over $1.95m compensation for CRPS
The Supreme Court decision of McGiffin v Fosterville Gold Mine Pty Ltd  VSC 665 considered a dispute between an injured worker and the insurance company, as to the cause of ongoing pain after a workplace injury.
The plaintiff, Mr McGiffin, was working for the defendant, Fosterville Gold Mine, as a “nipper” – a labourer that would assist the operator of a large machine called a “jumbo.” The jumbo was used to drill holes or drive bolts into the walls and roof of the mine. The plaintiff would load bolts into the boom on the jumbo.
On 2 March 2018, Mr McGiffin was working in the mine with Mr Sole, the jumbo operator. On this occasion, one of the bolts became bent. Mr Sole removed the bolt and saw that it was jammed into the boom. He tried to dislodge it by using a hammering mechanism in the boom to try and dislodge it. When doing this, Mr Sole accidently bumped the rotation lever which was next to the percussion lever. This caused the stuck bolt to spin around and strike the plaintiff on the head and right shoulder.
Impact of injury
The plaintiff suffered a partial long bicep tendon tear in his right arm, which is his dominant arm. He underwent numerous procedures but was still in significant pain.
The plaintiff gave evidence at trial that he cannot use his right arm at all and that it stays in a fixed position by his side. He said he experiences hundreds of spasms in his right arm a day that feel like an electric shock, his arm always feels hot, it swells and sweats often. He noticed differences with colour, temperature and hair growth between each arm and has a permanent clawed grip in his right hand.
The intensity of the pain varies and worsens with activities such as showering, dressing, bumping or knocking the arm. He cannot assist with housework or lift his 18-month-old son and rarely drives anymore. He returned to work about a week after his accident on alternative duties but only managed this for a couple of months. He had not returned to any other type of work since then at the time of the trial.
At the time of the trial, the plaintiff was 29 years of age.
The plaintiff’s treating doctors diagnosed him with CRPS type 1. Medico-legal experts engaged by the plaintiff agreed with this diagnosis.
The defendant disputed this diagnosis and called medico-legal experts who gave evidence that the plaintiff was not suffering with CRPS.
All expert evidence obtained agreed that the pain and symptoms the plaintiff experienced was not in keeping with the original bicep injury. However, the cause of the ongoing pain and symptoms was the issue in dispute.
Ultimately, the Court agreed that the plaintiff was suffering with CRPS type 1 and also with a secondary adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression.
After a detailed consideration of the effects the injury has on the injured worker’s day to day life, the Court awarded him $450,000 in pain and suffering damages. Further to this, the Court noted that the plaintiff is unlikely to ever work again and made an award for past economic loss in the amount of $295,072 and an award for future economic loss in the amount of $1,207,546.
In total, the Court awarded compensation in excess of $1,950,000.
At Polaris, we are experts in worker’s compensation cases. We’ve successfully represented many clients in relation to their workplace injury claims whether that be disputes about weekly payments, lump sum compensation, rejected claims or any other issue.
For advice or assistance with any aspect of your worker’s compensation claim, please get in touch with Polaris Lawyers. It doesn’t cost you anything to find out if you have a claim.