By: Vic R. Redula, esq.
Petitioner Maureen Hikida did clerical work for Costco from November 1984 through May 2010, a period of more than 25 years. During this period, she developed a number of medical conditions, including carpal tunnel syndrome.
In May 2010, she took leave from work to undergo carpal tunnel surgery which was authorized by defendant. Unfortunately, following the surgery, she developed chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a condition that caused her debilitating pain in her upper extremities and severely impaired her ability to function. She never returned to work.
She was evaluated by an Agreed Medical Examiner who found her totally permanently disabled due entirely to the effects of CRPS that she developed as a result of the failed carpal tunnel surgery. He further concluded that the carpal tunnel condition itself was 90% industrial and 10% non-industrial.
She was also evaluated by a vocational expert who found her permanently and totally disabled, without access to any occupation in the open labor market.
The case went to trial and the Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) found her totally permanently disabled but apportioned the disability 90% industrial after adjustment for apportionment.
Petitioner filed a Petition for Reconsideration.
In a split decision, the Appeals Board (Board) affirmed the apportionment but granted reconsideration because the WCJ did not consider petitioner's psychiatric disability.
The WCJ increased her award to 98%. Petitioner filed another appeal which the Board denied.
The Petitioner then filed a Writ seeking review of the Board's decision. Respondent contended that appeal on the issue of apportionment is no longer timely because it was already determined by the Board previously.
Decision by the Appeals Court
The Second Appellate District of the Court of Appeal of the State of California reversed the decision by the Board on apportionment after ruling that the Writ was timely filed. It held that because the total permanent disability was caused entirely by the CRPS which developed from the authorized carpal tunnel release, there is no apportionment. The fact that the underlying injury - the carpal tunnel syndrome was only 90% industrial was not controlling. It also affirmed the tenet that the employer is responsible for both the medical treatment and any disability arising directly from unsuccessful medical intervention, without apportionment.