Clemmons v. Securitas cervical Degenerative Disc Disease Raleigh Workers Compensation benefits lawyer Edelstein Payne job accident attorney back pain


Clemmons v. Securitas, 645 S.E.2d 229 (2007)

Workers' Compensation 
Case recognizing that a spinal column injury and problem experienced by a security guard at a nuclear plant was caused by the carrying of substantial additional equipment about his upper body, and that those problems constituted an occupational disease.
Plaintiff was employed by Securitas, Inc. as a lieutenant guard at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant. Plaintiff worked twelve-hour shifts, working three straight days with three days off. However, during 2002 and 2003, because of a shortage of staff, plaintiff worked extra shifts, often working six twelve-hour shifts in a row. Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the equipment security guards at the nuclear power plant had to carry increased significantly, weighing a total of forty pounds. This equipment was worn at almost all times plaintiff was at work.
In 2003, plaintiff began experiencing tingling in his hands which spread to his arms, legs, waist and right side. As a result, in June of 2003, plaintiff saw his primary care physician for these problems. Plaintiff was subsequently referred to Dr. Daniel Tesfaye, a neurologist.
Dr. Tesfaye ran a series of tests that indicated a number of problems in plaintiff's neck, including degenerative arthritis, bone spurs, and actual damage to plaintiff's spinal cord in his neck. Plaintiff was referred to Dr. R. Mark Rodger, a neurosurgeon.
Dr. Rodger's examination of plaintiff and review of plaintiff's test results confirmed spinal cord damage as well as degenerative changes in his neck. Dr. Rodger operated on plaintiff's neck, performing a two-level cervical fusion from C5 through C7 on 1 December 2003. The surgery did improve some of plaintiff's symptoms; however, plaintiff continued to experience problems with his arms, hands, neck, low back and legs such that he was never able to return to his job. Both Dr. Tesfaye and Dr. Rodger indicated that plaintiff was not able to resume his duties as a security guard.
Plaintiff subsequently filed a claim under the North Carolina Worker's Compensation Act, which was denied by his employer. This case was heard on 13 April 2005 by Deputy Commissioner Morgan Chapman. On 23 September 2005, Deputy Commissioner Chapman filed an Opinion and Award awarding plaintiff workers' compensation benefits for his cervical degenerative disc disease, but denied plaintiff's claim for workers' compensation benefits in relation to his lumbar degenerative disc disease. Plaintiff and defendants appealed from the decision of Deputy Commissioner Chapman to the Full Commission.
While both Dr. Rodger and Dr. Tesfaye stated that degenerative disc disease is an ordinary disease of life, they both also stated that not everyone develops the symptoms experienced by plaintiff. Rather, the nature of plaintiff's job and the increased weight he was required to carry after 11 September 2001 increased plaintiff's risk of developing active symptoms and greatly contributed to his condition. Thus, the Full Commission did not err in concluding plaintiff's cervical degenerative disc disease is a compensable occupational disease pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat § 97-53(13). Defendants' assignments of error are overruled.

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